City condemns Renaissance Book Shop

Store owner headed to court

Inside of Renaissance Book Shop

After more than a decade of trying to get the owner of Renaissance Book Shop on N. Plankinton Avenue in downtown Milwaukee to repair the decaying building, the city is taking him to court to force him to fix it or pay for its demolition.

Hundreds of thousands of books lining the walls and covering the building’s four floors have caused enough structural damage that the south end of the structure is one foot lower than the other end, said Ron Roberts, manager condemnation services for the City of Milwaukee.

“Our concern is for the safety and welfare of the adjacent business owners and for the public,” Roberts said.

The store is closed, windows boarded and the sidewalk in front of it blocked off by the city.

Robert John, who has owned the 4,800-square-foot bookstore at 834 N. Plankinton Ave. since the 1970s, could not be reached for comment.

From foundation to facade issues, John has had several run-ins with the city over the years over the condition of the building, which dates back to 1900.

The last evaluation of the building was about five years ago, and since that time the city has not been given access, Roberts said.

On Oct. 21, an emergency inspection order was issued and a condemnation order was issued to John, Roberts said.

Given the condition of the building, it is likely the structure will have to be demolished. In a rare move, the city is taking John to Milwaukee County Circuit Court to try to force John to repair or raze the building.

Assistant city attorney Kail Decker said the building’s proximity to other buildings and the river will make it very expensive to demolish.

“It is a better use of taxpayer dollars to have the court order him to raze the building than have the city do it and try to collect the money after the fact,” said assistant city attorney Kail Decker. “We believe (John) does have the money.”

A pretrial conference is scheduled for July 2016.

John also operates the used book shop at Mitchell International Airport. An employee at that store, who did not want to give his name, said John is not interested in repairing the downtown location or paying to raze the building.

“I think he’ll continue to stonewall, but that’s just my opinion,” he said.

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