New owners of Casey’s lot pitching plans of constructing a business, but face parking challenges

Aug. 24—After sitting vacant for nearly three years, the new owners of a vacant lot on Main Street that’s been embroiled in controversy, are floating some potential ideas to develop the property.

During Monday’s city Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, some details of what the new property owners, Jeremy and Christie Gunkel, are considering doing with the former Casey’s lot that sits on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Main Street emerged.

According to City Planner Mark Jenniges, the Gunkels are seeking to construct a building on the 100 by 75 foot lot that sits across the street from the Corn Palace to house some sort of business, but details of what exactly the business would be weren’t discussed at length as the Gunkels were not able to attend the meeting on Monday.

“The owners have approached us and want to put a building on that property,” Jenniges said during the meeting. “Their plan is to put a building here that kind of angles with a second floor deck area with seating on the south side to look over the area with a view of the Corn Palace and maybe get a malt beverage license.”

Jeremy Gunkel on Tuesday in an interview with the Mitchell Republic said he’s continuing to plan for the future developments he intends to build on the lot, and hopes to see the plans come to fruition as soon as possible.

“We want to get rolling on our plans as soon as possible, so that’s why we are bringing plans forward to see what’s feasible,” Gunkel said Tuesday. “Parking is going to be something we need to get worked out. The talks have been good though on it all.”

The former Casey’s lot, located at 701 N. Main St., changed ownership to the Gunkels recently after the Mitchell City Council declined to buy the property back from the previous owner, Matt Doerr. While Doerr — who was a board member of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce at the time he bought the lot from the Mitchell Area Development Corporation — purchased the lot for $900.80 in 2019, he sold it to the Gunkels for $20,000 in July, profiting over $19,000 from the deal. Following the sale to the Gunkels, Doerr donated the money he made on the sale to the city’s streetscape project that’s been discussed.

When Doerr purchased the lot from the MADC for $900.80 in 2019 with plans to build a business there, which never materialized, the property was valued at $25,750. Considering the MADC sold the lot to Doerr for roughly 96% less than its value at the time, the deal sparked criticism and backlash from some downtown business owners and community members. Criticism intensified over the next two years as no action was unfolding at the 701 N. Main St. lot following the cheap sale of the property.

After the controversy surrounding the lot and lack of developments materializing, the Gunkels’ plans to develop were met with strong support on Monday, as some city officials and members of the Planning Commission were eager to hear some things are in the works. The Gunkels are also the owners of 2nd and Lawler candy and toy store in downtown Mitchell.

“I don’t think anybody has parking on Main Street. But something needs to happen on that property, and I’d probably be in favor of letting them get by,” said commission member Kevin Genzlinger.

However, Jenniges said the Gunkels’ “biggest concern” with constructing a building to house some sort of business is parking. When Casey’s General Store sold the lot to the city of Mitchell for $1 in 2018, the company attached a handful of covenants that stipulate the property can’t house a competing retail business for the next 15 years.

“They haven’t gone to the architects yet because parking will be the biggest concern with it,” Jenniges said. “If you put any business there, then you have absolutely no parking because you’re not going to meet the requirements. So they are trying to get a sense of what you guys will approve of for a variance for parking. They can’t really design their building until they know what it is you guys would approve.”

Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said the Gunkels want to use as much of the lot for the building, which poses parking challenges.

“They said they would even prefer their employees not to park there, as they want to utilize as much of the area as they can for the building,” he said.

Commission member Jon Osterloo pointed to The Back 40’s parking situation as an example of one way to make parking work for a business to be housed on the vacant lot. Mayor Bob Everson noted Main Street doesn’t require on site parking.

“Like The Back 40, they have that public parking lot across the street and use the street parking. I’d like to see it developed,” Osterloo said.

The Planning Commission didn’t take any action on the proposed plans of the lot considering it was a discussion item only.

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