Ripon's Watson St. to reopen after December fire

Watson Street will reopen Thursday after the city braces two buildings destroyed by a December fire.
Watson Street will reopen Thursday after the city braces two buildings destroyed by a December fire.

RIPON – Two downtown Ripon buildings destroyed by fire in December are coming down.

The main street through downtown will soon be reopened, not a day too soon for businesses struggling to get by.

Breakfast is cooking, but fewer customers than usual are coming into Kristina's Family Restaurant in Ripon. That's because part of Watson Street, Ripon's "Main Street" has been closed since a fire destroyed two buildings across the street in December.

"Me happy, just being people come in and they eat breakfast and lunch," said owner Rasim Atila.

And the conversations over coffee are about what might replace the buildings that will soon be torn down.

"I also hope they can rebuild the fronts as they are or save them because I wouldn't want to see the downtown motif spoiled with something brand new," said Bill Wingen of Neenah.

But what exactly will happen is still a question many people have. Boca Grande Capital, the company that owns the businesses did not return our calls for comment.

Ripon City Administrator Lori Rich said the company sent the city this email Wednesday.

In it, Rich says Boca Grande is backing out of an agreement with the city to brace the two buildings so the street can be reopened.

The company cites safety concerns.

The work can finally be completed after Boca Grande's insurance company finished its fire investigation last week. The insurance company initially told the city it would take a month after the December 11 fire.

But when that deadline came and went, Rich said the city was prepared to step in.

"The fact that it went on a couple of extra weeks, we were starting to get concerned, so we are glad that their investigation ended and that we are able to move forward."

And businesses like Ripon Drug that are struggling with the loss of foot traffic say reopening the street can't come soon enough.

"We have seen a decline in business and it has been a couple of months now since the fire was and we are looking forward to getting the street open again," said store co-owner David Gitzel.

And the longer that takes the more the frustration felt by many in the community continues to grow.

Rich said the city will reopen Watson Street as soon as the bracing work is finished.