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Past, present mesh to breathe life into the Historic Fortney

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Half of the building has been newly painted while the owners hope to paint the other half soon.

VIROQUA, Wis. (WXOW) - When driving or walking down Viroqua’s Main Street, a piece of history often draws the attention of locals and out-of-towners alike.

The Fortney Hotel was built in 1899. Its purpose has changed over the past 100 years as the historical beacon fell victim to time, eventually on the verge of collapse with no repair in sight.

"The building was quite literally falling down," said Justin Miller. "There were maybe 20 tenants living upstairs in very rough conditions."

With this historic landmark in jeopardy, the Wrobel family, under the name Ridgeland Restorations LLC, stepped in over a year ago and began the transformation process for the building.

"They came up with a June 3rd opening date and I was like, 'That’s lofty,' but they got there, and here we are today," said Miller who manages the new lounge inside the building.

The new lounge features elements of past and present with the original check-in desk now serving as a bar, a refurbished tin ceiling, refurbished stained glass, and the original sign to greet when you walk inside the building.

"You can see all the white tables are the old doors from the original hotel upstairs and they got refinished, repainted, and an epoxy finish," said Miller.

Even on the outside, the exterior features a blend of old and new. The original stairs from 1899 remain but if you round the corner, an ADA accessible wheelchair ramp has been installed.

"The building hadn’t been painted since 1979, and we knew that was one of the first things we needed to tackle," said Amy Wrobel. "Some of the bricks were starting to get close to letting loose from the building, so we made sure that that was all secure first and we just went for it.”

New signage was also added for the building and its five commercial tenants. Neighbors enjoy seeing some new life brought back into the building.

“I think it’s great, " said Lisa Ashley, who owns Ewetopia Fiber Shop next door. "I think it’s going to be a real anchor for Main Street. People float into our shop from all over the place and are excited to have a place to go for a drink.”

The lounge is open Thursday and Friday from 4:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. Beer, wine, and appetizers from the Driftless Cafe are served. The space is also available for rental.

"The old community members that come through and their faces when they walk in here is amazing," said Miller.

The next steps in the revitalization project will be to transform the the top two floors into a 14 suite boutique hotel. The owners hope to complete the entire project by this time next year.

For more information, visit The Historic Fortney | Facebook

Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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