WATERTOWN — City Council members on Monday informally agreed to sell the Strauss Memorial Walkway to the owners of a vacant Public Square building who want to use it for outside seating for a planned restaurant.
During the past year, Michael Pierce and Kenneth Bodah have been working on redeveloping the former Wind and Wire building at 75 Public Square, which is across the walkway from Spokes Craft Beer & Tapas.
The two businessmen are “in negotiations” with a restaurateur to lease the building for “an eatery,” Mr. Pierce said after the meeting.
He would not identify the prospective tenant, but the alleyway would be developed into outdoor seating for the restaurant. Hinting what the restaurant would be like, Mr. Pierce would only say, “This would be Spokes on steroids.”
Plans call for building an upper deck with seating for about 80 people and the current walkway having tables for about 120 people, he said. Some space would be used for Spokes.
“This is exciting,” Councilman Cody J. Horbacz said. “I think it’s transformational.”
The developers and the city must still agree on a sale price for the property.
While the walkway would be developed for the restaurant, the alley was part of the city’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The city planned to spend $375,000 in improvements to the walkway.
Senior Planner Jennifer Voss is excited about turning the alley into a project that will draw people to downtown.
“We’re getting so much more,” she said.
The developers plan to restore the deteriorating Public Square building’s facade, install a new roof and complete plumbing, electrical and heating and air conditioning systems.
Construction would begin next spring and be completed by the end of the summer or in early fall, Mr. Pierce said.
While they were working with an architect, the developers discovered the building shared a common wall with the city-owned alleyway. Last year, the city worked with the two businessmen to seek $500,000 in state money for the project, but it wasn’t funded.
The property that the Strauss Walkway was built on was donated to the city in 1984 by H. Michael and Bernice C. Strauss after a fire consumed the building at the site in 1968. The walkway was built in honor of the Strauss’s late son, Michael W. Strauss, who died in 1982.
Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. and council members made a point that a plaque identifying the alley designating it as the Strauss Memorial Walkway should remain prominently displayed.
Mayor Butler also directed staff to see if the state would allow any of the $375,000 DRI funding to be used for the developers’ project, even though the alleyway was a city-sponsored project.
If the DRI money cannot be used by the developers, Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, said an alternative could be making improvements to a public walkway on the west side of the Woodruff Professional Building instead.
Planning department officials have discussed making improvements to that sidewalk and the J.B. Wise parking lot as a way to connect downtown with the Black River and Veterans Memorial Riverwalk and other river amenities.