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JEFFERSON, Wis. – While many considered the downtown area here as “downtown Beirut,” Fort Community Credit Union President/CEO Ron Vogel saw a diamond in the rough. His “diamond” turned out to be the greatest “eyesore” – the three-story, 13,500 square-foot Puerner building. Built in 1864, the building has served as everything from an opera house and dance hall in its glory days to department store, tavern and hair salon until fires ravaged it some six years ago. At a price tag of over $2 million, with designs by local architect Craig Ellsworth and the City of Jefferson’s help in providing financial incentives and help with the infrastructure work, the Puerner building can now add credit union to its list of incarnations. “We wanted to improve everyone’s attitude about Jefferson and we viewed it as an investment in the downtown area,” said Vogel. “That property was the site of a dilapidated building and really was a problem for the downtown area and we had some needs too so it is just a win-win situation for us and the city.” The new location not only gave the $98 million credit union a prime spot in the middle of downtown but also greater visibility and convenience for members. “It is so funny to hear members refer to us as the `new’ credit union in town when we’ve had a branch here for about five years,” said FCCU Director of Marketing Don Girton. “The problem is our old location was too difficult for members to find. We certainly don’t have that problem with our new high profile site – we had some 2,000 people in just one day when we opened our doors.” The renovated facility not only houses the credit union but also 5,500 square feet of office space to be leased to tenants; a restored third floor ballroom that is used as the board room and is available for community events, parties and receptions; and a tunnel room. “It took about a year for actual construction and the tunnel was one of those unexpected finds that can happen with such a project,” said Vogel. “Since the whole idea was to make it more interesting and give the downtown area another attraction we decided to keep the tunnel and incorporate it into the design. It is an interesting facet of history to display.” The tunnel was built between 1864 and 1893 to store beer that was brewed in a nearby building. At the time underground tunnels were used to store beer because of lack of refrigeration. Later the tunnels were extended to some of the other local taverns to make it easier to transport beer barrels. In the 1900′s when sewers and roads were installed the tunnels were blocked off. Familiar with revitalizing historic buildings, Ellsworth kept several elements such as rock walls, arched windows and exposed beams from the original structure. “The whole community has rallied to support this investment we made and everyone is happy with the result which is having a centerpiece for the city,” said Vogel. Girton says the new location has also had a tremendous positive impact on foot and drive-thru traffic and in a town of 5,000 the credit union ATM transactions have been “going through the roof”. The credit union also offers tours of the facility and the third floor has recently been rented out for a mayoral debate and a wedding reception. “It may sound hokey but our tagline has always been `neighbors helping neighbors,’ and since we moved that is just what has been happening. The local neighborhood businesses are not only doing their own renovations but are also talking about us and recommending the credit union to their customers,” said Girton. “The whole area is just starting to grow and we all know that there is nothing more valuable than word of mouth advertising. The fact that they are doing it on their own is just fantastic.” [email protected]

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