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Effort to save building that housed old cafe may take years

New restaurant is not planned, but owner would like to preserve historic mural

Staff writer

A restaurant probably is not in store for a space that has housed several well-loved Marion eateries, but new owner John Wheeler plans to rescue the building along with its historic mural — a project he admits will be daunting.

“It’s going have to be a total gut,” he said of the long-neglected structure at 211 E. Main St.

“It needs a new roof. And everything inside is going to be thrown out. It could take two or three years.”

Wheeler purchased the building, valued at $28,219 on Dec. 3 at a sheriff’s tax sale at Marion County Lake through his firm Billings Properties LLC.

As a long-term local, Wheeler said he is willing to make the investment to ensure Marion’s Main St. will be maintained — not fall to ruin as its buildings sit empty for years.

“It’s going to be a labor of love that will take some time,” he said.

The roof has leaked and much of the buildings contents are mildewed with water damage. Wheeler said he has looked things over, but will not do anything until Feb. 6.

“I am hoping when we take down and get into that wall we will see some stone,” he said. “I would love for it to be decent looking stone from floor to ceiling. And then there are some cool wood floors.”

The building has been a go-to site for Marion diners.

Debbie Cook operated Stone City Café at the spot until 2010. Richard Vogt then reopened the restaurant as Downtown Eatery until April of 2012 when Cindy Taylor bought the business and renamed it Cindy’s Family Café.

Health problems forced her to close the doors in late January 2017 and move to Salina. The state later seized the building for nonpayment of more than $16,000 in sales tax.

Wheeler said he was saddened when Cindy’s closed, but admits he has no experience running a restaurant or desire to open one.

“There are plenty of restaurants available now and that is not our forte,” he said.

The building might house “something more in line” with the Wheelers’ talents — shops or offices, perhaps.

He won’t work up a business plan until he has a better handle on needed repairs which he hopes to start in February or March.

“It will take an aggressive demolition to really tell anything,” he said.

There is also the matter of maintaining a mural painted on the building’s side as a tribute to 9/11 that has become a city landmark.

City administrator Roger Holter said he could not comment about the sale of the building or the mural at press time.

Wheeler said he will investigate options and plans to talk to the city, but admitted the possible expense would “terrify him.”

“We love the mural, too,” he said. “We don’t want to tear it down. We’ll have to look into it and see what it takes to save it.”

Last modified Jan. 7, 2021

 

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