By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Members of the Colfax Plan Commission are wondering if Soo Park could accommodate two enterprises: a parking garage for the Commercial Testing Lab and a miniature train ride for the Colfax Railroad Museum.
The appraisal on the Soo Park property is $20,000, reported Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, at the Colfax Plan Commission’s September 6 meeting.
[emember_protected] Soo Park is located directly south of the stone depot at the Colfax Railroad Museum.
The property was donated to the Village of Colfax in 1916 for development as a park.
A small article in the November 26, 1916, edition of the Colfax Messenger reported under the headline “ Colfax Expands” — “A company has been formed and a move is on foot to annex the tract of land just south of the Soo Line station as an addition to the village, and a portion of the survey it is planned to set aside as a park to be beautified with trees and flowers. Then a park drive is to be part of the addition, which in all will be a fine improvement to the village, if carried out according to present plans. Geo. T. Vorland, G.W. Emmerton, etal, are the promoters, and the company is styled the Colfax Improvement Company.”
The area known as Soo Park was never developed as a park, and in fact, the land was never annexed, or if it was, the annexation was never recorded.
The Colfax Improvement Company dissolved in 1919.
The Colfax Village Board in May of 2016 agreed to contract with Cedar Corporation in the amount of $2,750 to survey the parcel and to record the deed.
The parcel, an odd-shaped piece of land in a crescent shape that is wider in the middle and tapers down to almost nothing at the ends, contains a road right-of-way that could be vacated to free up more usable space.
If the village board decides to vacate the road right-of-way, half of the land would have to be deeded over to the adjacent property owners, said Patrick Beilfuss of Cedar Corporation at the September 6 meeting.
The southern half of the right-of-way would go to the adjacent land owners. The village could not obtain the entire right-of-way, he said.
One possible use for the lot would be either multi-family or single-family residential, Niggemann said.
Commercial Testing Lab also is looking for a place to build a garage for the route cars used to collect water samples, and the Colfax Railroad Museum is interested in more land, she said.
The northern edge of the Soo Park parcel is only about 60 feet from the railroad tracks.
Herb Sakalaucks, curator of the Colfax Railroad Museum, attended the September 6 plan commission meeting.
The extra space would be used to set up a miniature train ride, he said.
Sakalaucks has already acquired the engines (a steam engine and a diesel), the train cars and the tracks and has received a grant to fund the installation.
The train rides would be part of an effort to draw tourists to Colfax, which would benefit other businesses in town such as restaurants, cafes, taverns and retail shops, he said.
The train rides also would be available as an activity for events held in the wooden depot, such as children’s birthday parties, Sakalaucks said.
The Colfax Railroad Museum’s development plan includes turning part of the depot on Main Street into an events center. The museum obtained the wooden depot after the roof was damaged during a tornado in June of 2014.
If the Soo Park lot were available to the railroad museum, part of that area would be used for re-enactment events, too, Sakalaucks said.
The Colfax Commercial Club has been discussing the idea of bringing re-enactment groups into Colfax for a weekend. Re-enactment groups could include the Spanish-American War, the Civil War and the voyageurs.
The Spanish-American War would fit in with the Colfax Railroad Museum because of Theodore Roosevelt and his trip through Colfax on the train, Sakalaucks said.
Roosevelt served as the lieutenant colonel of the Rough Riders Regiment during the Spanish-American War. He came through Colfax on the train when he was running for president of the United States again and was subsequently shot in the chest while campaigning in Milwaukee.
Beilfuss presented a schematic drawing of how a 62-foot by 170-foot parking garage with room for 20 parking spaces could be positioned on the lot.
Pete Klug, owner of Commercial Testing, was not at the plan commission meeting.
Mark Ackerman of Ackerman Dairy Products owns property to the east of Soo Park.
Plan Commission member Dave Hovre suggested a meeting with Ackerman to find out if any of his land might be available for the Commercial Testing parking garage.
“Maybe there is a way to satisfy everybody,” Hovre said.
Sakalaucks has suggested the village board donate Soo Park to the railroad museum.
The Colfax Railroad Museum is a 501.c(3) non-profit.
The land was originally donated to the village for use as a park, Sakalaucks said.
The village has spent money on Soo Park to get it surveyed and also has spent money on attorney fees for the transfer of title, Niggemann said.
Plan Commission member Mike Buchner, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Gary Stene, said he did not believe Soo Park should be “all donated” when people have said they are willing to buy the parcel.
Rand Bates, director of public works, said he would be willing to go with Niggemann to talk with Ackerman.
If the building could be moved farther east, there would still be room for the railroad museum, Bates said.
Hovre said he believed any further discussion was “premature at the moment.”
Representatives for the village or the plan commission should talk to Ackerman and Klug first to find out what might be possible, he said.
Niggemann and Bates agreed to speak with Ackerman and Klug and to bring a report back to the plan commission. [/emember_protected]