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Northterra Real Estate Group LLC, a development company owned by Caledonia resident Lee Jaramillo, has an accepted offer to buy 500 Monument Square — the former Zahn’s Department Store building — for an undisclosed amount.

The 40,000-square-foot building, which was founded by Edward Zahn in 1898 operated as Zahn’s Department store, is owned by Tri-City Bank National Bank. The building has been vacant since 1981. Tri-City Bank inherited the building when it purchased the assets of the Bank of Elmwood when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation shut down the bank in September 2009.

Jaramillo is about 90 days away from disclosing the names of the tenants of the building since he’s still in the process of negotiating the leases. But he did say the public-private development would not be conventional and would seek to “bring life” to the downtown area.

“We are talking with a couple of different groups,” Jaramillo said. “We’re going towards a creative hands-on approach to this…. something that will help change the stigma of the downtown.”

The building use will likely be a mixed use, but will not include housing or a sports-related use. Jaramillio, a former baseball player, also owns Forceout, a company that makes a protective glove used in baseball.

One of the uses of the building may include a coffee shop and an educational-based makers’ space that could dovetail with area schools’ curriculum.

“The idea is to put the building to use in way that is engaging to the community,” Jaramillo said. “I wouldn’t have gone after the deal if it was conventional. Being from the area, I have a good idea of what the community needs. And now, the downtown area needs life.”

Jaramillio wants to build a space that engages everyone in the community, but in a way that promotes creativity.

“A long time ago kids used to tinker and build things with their hands… we’ve gotten away from that,” Jaramillo said. “And with what’s happening with education we have to provide services for everyone that promotes different types of learning… we need to help people find their passion and fire.

“The city is full of creatives and here will be an outlet to help them express themselves. Every thriving city is pushing creativity. Here everyone is welcomed. Everyone!”

One critical component of the project will be engaging private companies to physically be part of the project, Jaramillo said.

“We need the business community to help us align with our mission. This is critical,” he said. “This is a bigger deal than just one building…its a game changer.”

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.