Gruenwaldt tells city he’s planning new tavern

The Pressbox, already weakened by a fire in September 2008, was no match for heavy demolition equipment in this Plain Talk photo from late November, 2009. (Photo by David Lias)

The tavern known as the Pressbox may not be coming back to Vermillion.But its owner, Chad Gruenwaldt, indicated to the Vermillion City Council Monday that he does plan a new establishment in Vermillion on the site of the old Pressbox.After being severely damaged in a Sept. 29, 2008 fire, and after being the topic of controversy before the Vermillion City Council and local courts, the Pressbox, located at 9 W. National St., was torn down in November, 2009.Gruenwaldt informed the city council that he plans to be in business again one day during a routine public hearing for the renewal of alcoholic beverage licenses in the city."A lot of people have probably been wondering what's going on with the old Pressbox over there," he said. "We went through a lot of circumstances of what really happened … but due to the great efforts of the city police department, that did find who burned the building."Gruenwaldt told aldermen he's done a lot of research in the past year on building materials for a new Pressbox."It won't be named the Pressbox," he said. "I know that has been here 30 years before; I do think Vermillion is changing, it does need a changed and updated establishment meeting the needs of the community and the growing school."Gruenwaldt said he has no plans to construct "your typical college, party bar. I think there are establishments already that have that atmosphere, and that's not what I'm looking to establish or start over at that location."He noted that while it was in business, people residing near the Pressbox were concerned about sound. Before the fire, The Pressbox was host to sand volleyball tournaments that took place behind a high fence erected east of the building. The activity proved to be popular with the bar's patrons, but many nearby homeowners complained to the city about the noise the games produced late into the night."Obviously, the community spoke out and said we don't want that sort of thing over here, and I can 100 percent respect that," Gruenwaldt said. "What I would like to address is addressing sound issues. If I were to put a new establishment over at the old location, the one thing I would like to ask the city council is to renew my license with no restrictions carried forward like any and all of the other establishments. That way I can address issues like the new smoking ban; I can set up an area provided for them (smokers). "I'm not looking for having a loud stereo," he said. "I'm not looking for having a party atmosphere. I'm looking for a more casual place, a place where if someone want to sit down and have a smoke, they can have a smoke and they hold their drinks in their hands. Then I won't have an issue of people going out on the sidewalks, or going out in the alleys (to smoke). I'd like to have everything contained in an orderly fashion."Before the Pressbox's demolition last fall, Gruenwaldt and city officials were often at odds at public hearings involving what remained after the fire. Three men were charged and convicted of arson after a fire they set burned the tavern, causing an estimated $290,000 in damages.A month after The Pressbox was damaged by fire, Farrel Christensen, the city's building and zoning official, declared that the structure was a dangerous building and ordered it demolished by Dec. 15, 2008. Gruenwaldt appealed Christensen's ruling before the city council, acting as a board of appeals, on both Dec. 1, 2008 and Jan. 19, 2009. After conducting public hearings on those two dates, the alderman determined The Pressbox should be either be demolished or repaired by Gruenwaldt. Gruenwaldt was required to secure all needed permits for the building's repair within 60 days of the council's ruling. That 60-day time period ended March 23, 2009.On March 20, 2009, Gruenwaldt applied for an extension and a building permit to repair The Pressbox. After reviewing the application, city officials issued a written decision denying the extension and permit application. At the time, Christensen pointed to six deficiencies in Gruenwaldt's application that left him no choice but to deny the extension and the building permit. The city and Gruenwaldt were finally able to reach an agreement in October 2009, shortly before Gruenwaldt's appeal of the city's order was scheduled to be heard before Circuit Court Judge Steven Jensen.Gruenwaldt has retained his beer and liquor licenses. They will remain inactive until any new construction is complete and any new building passes inspection."I'd like to start over with a clean slate with the city," Gruenwaldt said. "I'd like to work more with the city and find out what maybe some of your issues are … I'd be more than willing to hear your concerns."City Manager John Prescott, in an interview with the Plain Talk in late 2009, noted one requirement of Gruenwaldt's license with the city."One thing the city council did do, when they issued his liquor license, is to just make it for the building, not for the entire parcel," Prescott said approximately a year ago. "He would only be limited to indoor use of the liquor license.""We would not need to include restrictions at this time," City Attorney Jim McCullough said Monday. "That can be addressed either through the building permit process when the building is being offered to code enforcement for its approval. It can also be addressed if there is a change in location where the license is currently to another one (location). It can be addressed through suitable location requirements at that time."McCullough confirmed Prescott's observation of a year ago �" that if a new tavern constructed by Gruenwaldt should open, the license would limit the serving of liquor to the interior only of the tavern."My concern … is that then becomes the council issuing the liquor license but staff determining whether or not he (Gruenwaldt) has met your criteria," Prescott said. "You could issue it (the license) without any restrictions. I'm just a little hesitant that it then would become staff's determination of whether or not if he's meeting what your wishes are or whether or not there are conditions placed on it, versus the governing body that actually issues the license."Gruenwaldt noted that before the Pressbox fire, his liquor license didn't restrict serving to only inside the building. "All I'm asking to reinstate my license the way it was previously so I can move forward with a new building, a new establishment, and bring it to Vermillion," he said. "I can't provide a smoking area for someone unless you make my license unrestricted. By eliminating that restriction, I can build and provide areas to contain that (smoking) in a more orderly fashion.""I think if you are going to have any restrictions, you should issue the license with the restrictions on them, and then once the building plan and things like that have been presented to code enforcement," McCullough said, "if there is an offer at that time to have an area outside for the consumption of alcohol, then at that time it can be brought back to the council to reconsider that particular condition."Gruenwaldt said he hopes to break ground on his new tavern sometime between now and March, and finish the new building by September.

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