KINGSBURG – Hoping to save an iconic building at the entrance of the community, Kingsburg’s City Council approved giving owners of the Swedish Mill another month to make repairs and take steps to get a functioning business at the location.
Mayor Michelle Roman said she’d met with the owners Joseph and Elizabeth Ghazale, of Bakersfield, in July 2017 and heard promises that progress would be made. And while having some much-needed exterior repairs done is one thing, having a welcoming business in place is another.
“It was, ‘we’re going to get on it, don’t worry.’ It’s over a year later, and nothing’s happened.”
Joseph Ghazale spoke at the Oct. 17 City Council meeting and said he’s working with an investor who plans to open a Country Waffle at the location. And while they’ve made some repairs to the roof, he realizes much more needs to be done even as they wait on that investor’s financing.
Ghazale said he’s has invested in property in Kingsburg before and is hoping once the Swedish Mill reopens it’s known as a “destination of happiness, not ugliness.”
Country Waffles representative Kelly Allred said the building owner won’t be running the restaurant, but a franchisee will.
It’s taken this long because a previous franchisee fell through, she said. They switched to a different concept and different restaurant, “but that didn’t work.” So now with another franchisee in place who is working on securing financing, it’s just a matter of time before they get to work with major renovations.
“We have a bona fide franchisee and we’re trying to do something local. But it’s their money and funding that’s going to do all the improvements and the equipment and hiring the employees.”
Allred said they have a new concept for Country Waffles of which the Kingsburg location would be the prototype. Her role is to help get the restaurant up and running with training, inventory and Viking-inspired décor.
The Kingsburg Country Waffle would be a 24-hour restaurant with one side as a coffee bar and the other as a dining restaurant with two patios and an outdoor market area.
“Everything’s set up for it, but it’s not the building owner who’s going to open the restaurant. We just have to get the franchisee and that’s been our problem. We’ve haven’t had the funding to do it.”
Real estate broker John Willingham is working with the Ghazales to make progress on the project. He also spoke during the City Council meeting and said they’ll focus on the exterior first by painting, repairing the parking lot and cleaning up landscaping before they get to work on a major renovation inside once the franchisee is financed.
“We do apologize it’s taken so long, but we think we’re at the end of the tunnel if you’ll just give us a little more time,” Willingham said. He estimates it will take 60 days for financing to be approved and then another 90 days for the interior remodel.
City attorney Michael Noland acknowledged that some repairs have taken place at the building at 475 Sierra St., but wants to see documents as proof that more will be done immediately.
“The owner did replace windows, perform some landscaping and clean up and reroofed the building. But since the inspection, no further work has been done, at least from what can be seen on the outside of the building.”
As it is, Noland described the building as being “in a significant state of disrepair” with accumulating weeds, overgrown landscaping, graffiti and homeless occupying the building and surrounding areas.
Council could have decided to move ahead with demolition, but since the building is highly visible from Highway 99 and many in the community would rather see it functioning, they approved giving the owner more time to make progress.
Councilman Sherman Dix asked for Willingham to provide documents to the City Manager Alex Henderson as the city’s been seeking a resolution for more than year already.
“We have a common goal here of seeing the building refurbished opened and in business, but the first letter here was in August of 2017. I think there’s already been a lot of time given,” Dix said.
If no progress is made after 30 days, however, the city is poised to take steps to have it demolished. This would cost an estimated $100,000.
“We don’t want to just hear ‘this is coming,’ but want to see action,” Dix said.
Willingham agreed and said there would be improvements within 30 days. An alarm has been installed to prevent homeless from entering the building and concept plans are ready to be submitted to the city.
Councilman Bruce Blayney said while they don’t want to see old buildings in town demolished “just because they’re old. We have respect for that, but we also expect if that building is not progressing, we’ll expect our staff to take action to force the demolition of the building.”
Since the Council has several plans in place in an effort to draw more visitors to town, they say having this iconic building up and running would play a big part in that.
“Our goal is to have it open and be proud when people come off the freeway to see it open,” Roman said.
In other matters, the Council recognized Michael Koch and Gene Villines for volunteer work they performed at Kingsburg’s Fire Station 2 to install an extractor and drying cabinet for the firefighters’ turnout gear.
Mayor Michelle Roman read a proclamation thanking the men for having done the work “on their own time and with their own materials.” The equipment they installed is critical in reducing firefighters and EMTs from “exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens that are a result from exposure to toxic smoke, gasses and ashes from fires and hazardous material exposures, as well as blood-borne pathogens.”
Fire Chief Tim Ray said fire departments are realizing the toxic smoke that saturates turnout gear is a major factor in causing cancer in firefighters and having such equipment will likely help save lives in their department.
“We’ve been up until now been using a commercial washer and dryer. We’re now establishing some new cleaning policies,” he said about having sufficient amounts of clean fire-fighting gear.
Ray credited Koch and Villines for spending their weekends to get the installation work done.
The Fire Department also benefitted from the gain of a retiring ladder truck and an engine purchased from the Fresno Fire Department for $1 each.
“They’re both in great shape and will serve the city for a long time,” Chief Ray said.
Since such equipment costs $1.1 million and $600,000, the city is gaining the equipment at a significant savings. The purchase was made possible by work by Fire Captain Wayne Osborne who was recognized for the partnership with Fresno Fire.
The engine is a 2005 model that has a 1,500 gallons per minute pump that will serve as a back up to the city’s current fleet and as a reserve once a new engine purchased with Measure E funds arrives. The truck meanwhile has a 100 foot ladder that will replace Kingsburg’s 1989 55-foot ladder truck.
“The truck will allow us to reach new heights and should prove useful to us for several years to come,” Roman read from a proclamation of appreciation.