MOUNT VERNON — Friday’s start to demolish the former Kresge Building at 201 S. Main St., is a sign that the process is moving forward. However, the empty space the demolition will leave could have a negative impact on this historic district.
Videos, stories and photos pretaining to the fire of 201 South Main Street in Mount Vernon Ohio on October 25, 2010.
The days since the Oct. 25 fire at building in downtown Mount Vernon have been very trying for numerous people. Fire and ATF officials have been kept busy securing the building, assuring safety of area pedestrians and determining the structural integrity of the building. The building’s owner has heard recommendations from engineers and his insurance company on what his best options would be. And downtown businesses have reported slow activity while the downtown streets are partially closed for safety reasons.
The city of Coshocton lost the former Park Hotel to a fire in 2005. Situated across from the courthouse, what once was a beautiful hotel facility had most recently housed various retail stores.
“It affected the psyche of the downtown area, like a tooth missing in the middle of your mouth,” said Coshocton Mayor Steve Mercer, adding that merchants which had been in the building chose to relocate elsewhere. “It is still empty, but we have an arrangement with the property owner to utilize the space for artistic endeavors.”
As far as dealing with the burned building, “We had to deal with getting it down and keeping it safe. The structural integrity is what drove to the removal of the building,” said Mercer.
Theatrical productions take place at times in the open space. Movies are projected onto the side of the adjoining building, and casual benches are placed around the area in support of First Friday activities.
“We have been very earnest in energizing the downtown community,” said Mercer. “But in this time of recession, vacant buildings tend to make investors back off. The climate is not very good.”
“If often comes down to economics,” said Jeff Siegler, Director of Revitalization at Heritage Ohio, in speaking of the decisions made when dealing with a lost downtown building. “It can be hard to justify putting money into [building replacement]. But the cost of being vacant is significant.”
Siegler is familiar with estimates prepared by Donovan Rypkema, Place Economics, Washington, D.C., taken from studying the impact on communities experiencing the loss of a downtown building. Rypkema’s findings, based on a small building sitting empty for one year in a small-town commercial district, would have the following impact on the community:
•$250,000 in lost sales.
•$12,500 in lost sales tax revenue to state and local government.
•$15,000 in lost rents to the property owner.
•$51,000 in lost loan demand to local banks for the building.
•$24,750 in lost business profits and owner compensation.
•$16,250 in lost employee payroll.
“It’s always unfortunate to lose a building that was part of the city’s heritage. Sometimes once things are lost they are never regained,” said Siegler. “If downtown visitors come across a vacant lot, they are less likely to walk to other places of business.”
Siegler told the News replacing a structure with a parking lot is not the best alternative for productive downtowns.
“You would really want to have a building of business in its place,” said Siegler. “A parking lot is not the best use of space downtown and should be placed behind buildings. [Parking lots] take away from the pedestrian feel.”
The city of Delaware has lost two businesses in its downtown central business district in the past seven years. A fire in September burned a building containing a lawyer’s office and a preschool childcare facility. Another more substantial fire burned down Bun’s Restaurant in 2003, which had been in business since 1864.
“Bun’s Restaurant was very well known, and it is still talked about,” said Lee Yoakum, communications director for the city of Delaware. “There was definitely an impact on the city when it was lost — economically, visually and emotionally. There was considerable concern about if it would be back. The owner was adamant in saying, ‘We will rebuild.’ And it helped in the healing process, knowing that it would return.” Telling how [Sandusky Street] was closed for a number of days following the fire, “I think for the most part the residents were understanding. There was a feeling of knowing they can return to normal,” said Yoakum.
“In these cases, I believe the residents can see first-hand what the fire department does and the impact they can have. It’s something that can be taken from the event. That’s important,” said Yoakum. “I think these cities would not be around as long if there were not a vibrant and vital business district. This has been a strength for Delaware, and I think it will be for Mount Vernon as well, knowing that you can cope.”
Building owners John and Mary Lou Montenery, now must decide what will become of the property.
“We’re keeping all options open at this time. We’ll try to do what’s best for downtown,” said John Montenery. “We don’t know exactly what that is yet, but when it’s down, we’ll see what the best option is then.”