First downtown business closes acquisition deal

Published 7:55 am Friday, June 13, 2008

Life promises change for Thirsty’s bar owners Scott and Kathy Goergen, the first to close a deal with the city as part of the acquisition effort on behalf of the downtown jail and justice center project.

“The way it worked out was there wasn’t really a place for us to move into,” said Scott, who’s owned the bar for 10 years following about six more as an employee. “Aug. 2 will be our last night open.”

It’s perhaps a bit bittersweet for the pair, who say they’ve enjoyed and struggled in equal parts with the experience. Prior to the establishment of Thirsty’s in 1991 following a fire, the business was opened as strip club called the Tiki Pub.

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“The bar business has been harder to do over the last years,” Kathy said, citing issues such as the statewide smoking ban, the new driving under the influence laws and the struggling economy.

“It’s probably not unlike any other business that’s struggling because there’s no money,” she said.

“There’s been times in the last couple of years when I thought, ‘Let’s get out of it,’” Kathy added. “But Scott and I have spent more than half of our relationship in this place. I’m sad. I have kind of mixed feelings about it now.”

Mixed feelings because of the people who came to Thirsty’s in the early years, and never left. Kathy and Scott said there are dozens of such people, who went from customer to friend due to time spent on bar stools there.

“The best part was definitely the many, many friends we made over the years,” Scott said. “That’s what I’ll miss the most.”

The Goergen’s said they didn’t initially embrace plans to build the justice center downtown, a proposal passed by the Mower County Board last fall on a margin of 3-2.

The two said they strove for optimism as they watched plans commence, though at the time they weren’t sure what their fate would be: continued or past bar owners.

“We knew it was going to happen, so we just hoped it would work out for everybody,” Scott said. The closing price on his property was about $200,000.

The city has approximately $4.5 million budgeted for site preparation work, which include all acquisitions, relocation, demolition and environmental mitigation. Early this year, they hired consultant Yaggy Colby to assist with acquiring and relocating dozens of tenants from an apartment building on Third Avenue Northeast and around 10 business owners, occupying two square blocks from Fourth and Second Avenues Northeast and First and Second Streets Northeast.

“All the offers are out, so the clock is ticking,” said Yaggy Colby firm associate Brad King, referring to businesses. Property owners have 30 days to consider the offer.

“They range all over the board,” King said, referring to offer reactions. “Everyone has a different view of what their property is worth. We’ll try to do right by everybody.”

Though he wouldn’t disclose further details, King said he “felt close” on two more acquisitions, and expected two others to conduct separate appraisals.

In terms of relocation of residents, Yaggy Colby real estate specialist Penny Rolf said she met with most tenants living at the affected apartment building last Friday.

“The ones I was unable to make contact with were sent relocation booklets by certified mail,” Rolf wrote in an e-mail sent Tuesday.

County commissioners say they can complete the entire project, which includes renovations of the Law Enforcement Center on First Street Northeast, for about $32 million. This includes $2.76 million recouped to the city for site preparation work.

The county has also expressed interest in purchasing a third block to the south, generally known as the Robbins block, for a parking lot and, potentially, a geothermal system.

Currently, county staff is testing soils on the two blocks to house the justice center, and determining whether conditions under the Robbins block favor geothermal. Results from tests for environmental contaminants have been clean, according to Austin community development director Hoium, though he added that more investigations would ensue of suspicious chemicals are found during site preparation work.

The goal has been to have the area ready for construction Dec. 31, 2008. The build would begin in spring.

According to the Goergen’s, they’ll throw a last bash Aug. 2 to seal a fond farewell with long-time customers and friends.

“If you ever want to step foot in this building again, we’ll be open,” Scott said.

In the days after, the two will auction off equipment — tables, mirrors, chairs, decor — until they’re scheduled to vacate the site Aug. 10.

As for the future? “We’re going to take a small break, plan a vacation,” Scott said with a smile. “I’m going to ponder while I’m away.”