by Luke Ulatowski
For The Beacon
A Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) meeting on whether or not the Sheboygan Municipal Armory is worth saving ended in the Armory’s favor.
The meeting took place on Tuesday, March 19, in Sheboygan’s Senior Activity Center. It consisted of a public hearing followed by HPC’s discussion and decisions regarding two items: whether or not the Armory is a “preferably preserved significant building” and whether there is “no reasonable likelihood that either the owner or some other person or group is willing to preserve, rehabilitate or restore such building.”
During the public hearing, 18 individuals spoke, excluding Alderperson Ryan Sorenson, who closed the public hearing portion after thanking the other speakers. All 18 expressed their desire to keep the Armory standing.
“For me, it’s not about dollars and cents,” said Joanne Scribner, a Sheboygan resident. “For me, it’s sentiment.”
Scribner stated she could “go on and on about all the wonderful things that happened” at the Armory. Many speakers did just that. Armory-held events cited throughout the evening include basketball games with the now-defunct NBA team Sheboygan Red Skins, Harlem Globetrotters shows, multi-school graduation parties and Hmong New Year celebrations.
Of the 18 speakers, five acknowledged their association with the Armory Community Project (ACP), a nonprofit that President Jennifer Lehrke suggests is “willing to preserve, rehabilitate and restore” the Armory.
In 2018, the city’s Common Council considered a redevelopment plan by ACP. According to Director of Planning & Development, the ACP failed to meet two fundraising milestones set by the Common Council: $1.5 million by Aug. 3, 2018, and $2.4 million by Oct. 23, 2018. In November that year, the Common Council voted to terminate the contract with ACP and began taking bids for demolition. ACP members argued that the organization was not given enough time to raise funds. Lehrke also believes that the contract has not yet been terminated in writing.
At the public hearing, Attorney Mark Wurtz used ACP’s willingness to preserve the Armory as evidence of a “reasonable likelihood” that the building could be restored. “Let’s make Sheboygan, and the Sheboygan Armory, great again,” he said.
After the public hearing, Commissioner Peter Mayer stated that the HPC’s power had been misunderstood by speakers and clarified that designating the Armory as “preferably preserved” would only put demolition plans on hold for 90 days. He argued that “the effort to put a perpetual hold on a building owner dissuades property from being preserved or saved” and voted in favor of the opinion that there is “no reasonable likelihood” someone would preserve and restore the building.
Commission President Travis Gross and Commissioner Peter Fetterer opposed Mayer, both stating that the Armory is “preferably preserved” and that there is a “reasonable likelihood” of preservation by a group. Both voted against Mayer’s opinion. “The Armory, as it sits, is the heart of this community,” Gross said.
Shortly after, the meeting was adjourned.
The Armory was built in 1941. HPC meetings in 2015 and 2017 ended in favor of the building’s “preferably preserved” status. In 2019, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.