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Jefferson businesses seek shelter from the floods

A new Burger Corner restaurant, pictured Thursday, is under construction at the corner of Main and Walworth streets in Jefferson. The empty lot in the foreground is where the restaurant stood until last summer’s floods damaged it.  Photo by Tessa Treuden

A new Burger Corner restaurant, pictured Thursday, is under construction at the corner of Main and Walworth streets in Jefferson. The empty lot in the foreground is where the restaurant stood until last summer’s floods damaged it. Photo by Tessa Treuden

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

The tanking economy could ground a plan to raise the Jefferson Area Business Center 2 feet to avoid floods from the nearby Rock River.

The river poured over its banks during last year’s floods, sending a foot of water into the building’s first floor. Center owner Steve Lewis wants to prevent that from happening again, but he needs to find up to $500,000 to get the job done.

“The river is like a wonderful, wonderful child,” he said. “It’s good 99 percent of the time, and, every once in a while, it gets out of its banks.”

Lewis plans to stack aggregate and concrete in the floor of the building and raise the building’s doors so the first story is 2 feet higher off the ground. But the center — a warehousing operation and an incubator for start-up companies — has empty space and is not generating enough money to pay for the project, Lewis said.

“It’s all a function of the economy for someone like me,” he said.

Lewis could find some relief from the Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium, which this week received roughly $2 million from the state to dedicate to businesses along the Rock River recovering from the 2008 flood or trying to avoid future flooding, said Dennis Heling, the consortium’s executive director.

Only one downtown Jefferson business — Jim’s Burger Corner — has not reopened. The restaurant owner had to demolish the original building on Main Street and is rebuilding on the lot immediately north of the site, Heling said.

Heling said Jefferson businesses have made progress in the past year, but the economy has slowed some project plans.

“It has been a year, but there has been a lot of forward momentum,” Heling said. “There have been mitigation efforts. There’s new construction taking place.”

Lewis said he spoke with representatives from the consortium about getting some state money. It could help pay to raise the building, but Lewis’ center also needs money to move an electrical substation and a lift station that serve the building, he said. The stations are too close to the river.

In the year since the flood waters receded, Lewis said he improved the center’s energy efficiency. On

Thursday, he brought rooftop solar panels online. The center also created a new skylight to cut down on lighting costs, he said.

But state regulations limit construction spending on buildings within a floodplain, Lewis said. The rules prevent him from doing any more interior improvements to attract businesses until he completes the flood-prevention project.

“If they want me to keep growing my business and expanding, which I want to once the economy recovers,” Lewis said, “I would be tied up.”

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