Former River Falls Motel site could become restaurant, apartments

Posted January 30, 2017

The vacant lot at 1300 S. Main St., south of downtown River Falls, could look very different a year from now.

In the last couple months, the city of River Falls has had numerous people come forward with different ideas for the lot where the River Falls Motel used to be. The buildings were torn down in December.

Now that the lot is clear, residents and city officials think it will be easier to find someone to build on the site.

“It took five years to get this thing down,” said Buddy Lucero, River Falls community development director. Trying to get someone interested in the piece of land was difficult, because the buildings were in such rough shape. It was hard for people to envision what could be there, added Lucero.

City officials have long-term plans for the south side of town.

“Goal on the south side of the city is to bring in more commercial sites,” said Lucero.

According to the city’s official zoning map, the property is zoned B-3 Highway Commercial.

Some developers who are interested in high commercial or high residential (for example, multi-unit housing like apartments, townhomes or condominiums) have inquired with plans that fit the model for future development of the site, said Lucero.

“I am very excited to see what will go in that spot,” Doug Rinehart, owner of Dick’s Fresh Market, said in a telephone interview.

Rinehart grew up in River Falls.

“The motel was very nice back in the day,” he said. “The hotel was used a lot because of the university. It was well run, until more hotels came in north of town, then things seemed to go downhill.”

Lucero agreed: “There was no way to redevelop the site. The buildings were falling apart.”

The city did not issue a building permit to the previous owner who was a former city council member, Pete Anderson. When Anderson died, his wife, Bonnie Anderson, took over responsibility for the property, said Lucero.

The former owner of Dick’s Fresh Market, Dick Rinehart (Doug’s father), said he had spoken with Anderson before he died about his plans for the site.

“He wanted to build a bunch of little cottages for students to live in. It was a nice idea, but those buildings were in rough shape,” he said.

The buildings eventually became a public nuisance and a razing permit was issued to tear down the buildings.

The City of River Falls recently conducted a study for the south corridor. The city wants development to be similar to the north side of town and to complement what UW-River Falls has done with the new Falcon Center, said Lucero.

Dick Rinehart said he had been approached by the city to buy the property, but declined because of his age.

“A few years back I tried to get some fast food restaurants to come,” he said. A few years ago he spoke with Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Culver’s, but each had reasons as to why River Falls was not a good fit. “Maybe things have changed now?”

Dick Rinehart said he thinks Culver’s would be a nice fit in River Falls. He investigated extensively about buying a franchise, but the company has a stipulation that the restaurant must be owner run and, Rinehart said, that was too much work for him at the time.

“The traffic is very good. There are over 19,000 cars that drive past that site everyday,” said Dick Rinehart.

“One plan that came to us was for commercial units with an Arby’s fast food restaurant attached,” said Lucero.

A survey of college students found that the No. 1 choice would be a Chipotle restaurant. Lucero said he has spoken with both Chipotle and Culver’s and both are now interested.

Another popular idea for the vacant spot is apartments. Apartment plans for college students or for senior citizens have been inquired about, but no one has come forward yet, said Lucero.

“I believe duplexes or nice apartments would be perfect — something more upscale,” added Doug Rinehart.

According to Lucero, the water and sewer lines still need to be removed, but otherwise the property is ready for something new.

The lot is 1.6 acres and, according to Pierce County property tax records, last year had an estimated fair market value of $238,600. The property is listed for sale with WESTconsin Realty LLC for $500,000.