Originally published in The Courier on December 10, 1999
Author: Lou Willin – Staff Writer
To many Findlay residents, the idea of demolishing certain downtown buildings probably sounds like a good one. The idea which the city is pursuing could reduce flooding, improve safety and eliminate some eyesores.
However, the owners of those properties on the east side of the 100 block of North Main Street are wary of the idea.
The property owners raised concerns about getting a fair price for their buildings and relocation expenses in a meeting Thursday with Findlay Development Services Director Gary Ziegler. The meeting was required by the State Historic Preservation Office, Columbus, because some of the properties are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Property owners also raised concerns that their property rights might get slighted in the effort for flood reduction.
Findlay city officials are seeking a $1.26 million federal grant to buy and raze buildings on the east side of the 100 block of North Main. The only building in that block which would remain is the Main Attraction, at the southeast corner of Main Street and Clinton Court.
The city also would buy and demolish buildings at 135 and 201 Clinton Court, and a former plating plant behind the North Main Street buildings. The city would have to contribute $422,900 of its own money for the project.
Ultimately, a park and pavilion might replace the buildings, but that would be another project. Civitan Park, located north of the Blanchard River and east of the former plating plant, could be extended.
City officials are hoping to hear next month whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will award the grant. If the request is approved, property appraisals will be done and then negotiations to buy the properties will begin.
Whether the current property owners would be willing sellers is another matter.
Not unless they jack up the price about 500 percent, Steven A. Dillon, owner of Dillon’s bar, 121 N. Main St., said after the meeting.
Dillon said the city should explore other options to reduce flooding, like dredging the river or erecting walls along certain stretches.
Councilman G. Max Miles, who owns 109-113 N. Main St., said he might sell his properties.
All I’m asking is, be fair, Miles said. Just be fair with me.
Some owners fear they may have no choice in the matter: The city might file an eminent domain action the right of government to take property for just compensation.
Ziegler told the property owners that he does not think the city would claim eminent domain, but after the meeting he did not rule it out either.
If the FEMA would give Findlay a grant, it would add weight to an eminent domain action, he said. Ziegler said the buildings in question become an obstruction during serious floods, raising water levels.
One property owner challenged that assertion, but most of the property owners’ concerns Thursday seemed to be over rights. Those at the meeting expressed fears of being pushed out of their properties and getting shortchanged financially.
All of the North Main Street buildings in question are on the National Register of Historic Places. However, they may no longer have historic value because their conditions have deteriorated so much, Ziegler said.
In fact, repairs meeting historic preservation and flood mitigation standards would be so expensive, the property owners might never recover their investment.
Since the buildings’ construction in the 1800s, they have been damaged by many floods, according to city officials. Some of the damage is to the interior first floors.
Owners offer only minimal repairs to the first floor and no repairs to the upper floors. As a result, the upper floors have deteriorated where the roofs are no longer repaired, according to a report Mayor John Stozich made to the state. Upper floors are being soaked by water, snow and other elements that have made it an impossible task to economically repair or reconstruct to current code requirements.
Conditions are so bad that the buildings are a safety concern, Ziegler said. He said pieces of cornice, loose brick and glass from broken windows have fallen on the sidewalks. The buildings are at risk of collapsing and first-floor occupants have at times fallen through the floors, according to Stozich.
Ziegler raised the matters of deferred building maintenance and safety after the property owners expressed concerns that their rights might be slighted.
If the owners desire to fix their buildings up, they have the right to, Ziegler said. They have for a long time. The question is, why haven’t they?
I’m here to protect all citizens, not just the ones in this room, he later told them.