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Anthony Dabruzzi of rural River Falls has plans to purchase Dibbo's Hotel.

Dibbo's may change hands, undergo renovations

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business River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

The historic Dibbo's Hotel in downtown Hudson will undergo a major renovation and reopen as a micro beer pub, restaurant and banquet facility if the plans of a potential buyer come to pass.

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Anthony Dabruzzi of rural River Falls received approval of his concept development plans for the downtown building from the city's Plan Commission last Thursday night.

Dabruzzi said he would need assistance from the city to proceed with the purchase and reconstruction of the building, however.

In particular, he was looking for relief from the city's off-street parking requirements.

Under Section 255-48 of the City Code, at the time of the construction or enlargement of a restaurant or bar in the central business district (B-3), the owners must provide one off-street parking place for every 100 square feet of floor space or one spot for every three people allowed inside the under the occupancy code.

Owners can escape the requirement by paying $2,500 for each parking place they are short of under the code.

A business is exempt from the requirement for the first 6,000 square feet of floor space.

Dennis Darnold, the city's community development director, said that by his calculations Dabruzzi would be lacking 10 to 19 off-street parking places for the project he has planned.

Dabruzzi and Todd Zwiefelhofer of Elliot Architects presented the plans for the 137-year old building, which was built in 1875 and opened the next year as the Commercial Hotel.

"The first goal is to bring this historic building back to its original state and breathe some life back into it," said Zwiefelhofer.

He and Dabruzzi outlined a three-phase project that would start with gutting the interior of the entire building. A fire-protection sprinkler system would be installed and the electrical and plumbing systems would be brought up to code, they said.

In the second phase, the front area of the building would be renovated to house a craft beer pub and restaurant. Dabruzzi said the arch in the front façade that used to be the entrance for a blacksmith shop will be reopened.

The beer wouldn't be brewed on site.

In the third phase, the back area of the first floor, where the nightclub is now, would be transformed into a banquet facility with seating for 300 people.

In the future, the second floor might be used for offices and a few apartment units, Dabruzzi reported.

He said that he would invest between $1 million and $2 million in the first phase of the project, and spend more than $2 million before he's done.

He said he needs assistance from the city or he probably won't be able to complete the project.

Dabruzzi would pay fees in lieu of off-street parking of between $25,000 and $47,500, according to Darnold's calculations, unless the city agrees to provide him with relief.

Darnold said Dabruzzi might also qualify for a state grant to help pay for the cleanup of asbestos and lead in the building.

The formation of a tax increment financing (TIF) district to provide funding also is possible, Darnold said, but would have to go through a process involving the county and school district.

"I think the project merits assistance, but I can't promise anything," Darnold said.

Plan Commission members were supportive of the project.

Alderperson Mary Yacoub, who ran the meeting in the absence of Mayor Alan Burchill, said she has asked for the City Council to reconsider the ordinance requiring new downtown businesses to provide off-street parking or pay a penalty.

"We have parking downtown. We have a walking problem," she said.

Commission member Paul Radermacher said it is "almost an insult" to require owners willing to make an investment in the downtown to pay a parking fee on top of it.

Commissioner Mary Claire Potter agreed that it wasn't business friendly.

Member Fred Yoerg reminded the commission that the purpose of the fee was to generate funding for additional parking.

Darnold said the purpose of Dabruzzi's and Zwiefelhofer's presentation was to introduce their proposal to the city.

Dibbo's is now owned by the children Bertha Fenner, who purchased the business in 1956 and operated it for more than 50 years. Fenner died last July.

Chuck McGee, Fenner's son-in-law, has managed the nightclub and bar for some time. The nightclub has been a popular venue for rock bands since the early 1970s.

Tommy James and the Shondels, Foghat, Molly Hatchet, Blue Oyster Cult, The Romantics, Steppenwolf and Great White are some of the popular bands that have performed there.

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