De Pere Lockkeeper's House Renovation Plans Due Soon

Contorno, Steve. Green Bay Press Gazette. April 15, 2011, page A3.

The historic house once occupied by the men who manned the locks on the Fox River will likely get new life, possibly as a rental home or a bed and breakfast.

First built in 1912 and last renovated in 1973, the Lockkeeper's House has been unoccupied for almost three decades. But a report expected next month will lay out new uses for the old home.

"We're going to try to find one that makes some economic sense," said Jennifer Lehrke, an architect.

Owned by the state, the property has been on the Wisconsin and national registers of historic places since 1993, but has fallen into disrepair. "The interior is really in terrible condition. The building was closed up for 20 years and in those 20 years it wasn't maintained. All the mechanical and electrical and plumbing systems have been vacated," Lehrke said.

"Structurally it's very sound, but it's also very dated in the inside. It's like walking into a time capsule."

In all, the state owns 10 houses along the Fox River, nine of which are historical landmarks. How work proceeds on the De Pere house will be a blueprint for the rest, said Harlan Kiesow, CEO of the Fox River Navigational System Authority.

"If we can have a use in there it would be better from a maintenance perspective. It would also be better for things like security," Kiesow said. "If you get complimentary use for these houses all along the waterway it would add to the tourism effort that is ongoing."

Ideally, the state would lease the house to a private group that would occupy the space while maintaining the historical look and feel of the home. A bed and breakfast would be more feasible than more commercial uses, such as a restaurant, due to the limited access and parking and cost of renovations, Lehrke said.

A rental home for fishermen and boaters, a museum or a spot to rent boats and kayaks also are under consideration.

"Our initial estimates are in the $300,000 to $400,000 range and that includes getting all the utilities up and running and restoring it to national standards," Lehrke said. "That's if it stays residential. If it goes to commercial use, it's $400,000 to $500,000."

Because of its landmark status, the project would be eligible for state and federal tax credits. Local groups are looking to raise funds and grant money to restore the house without public dollars.

"There would be benefits to having them occupied, but we don't have any money to go in and do the work," Kiesow said. "Whoever would take over the facility would be responsible for remodeling the interiors. We would be responsible for the exterior because of the historic designation."