Fate of Niles landmark up in the airPublished 8:59am Wednesday, October 16, 2013
The fate of an historic Niles landmark remains in doubt.
The Gallery Building, which sits at the corner of Second and Main Streets in downtown Niles, is in need of a new roof.
The Niles City Council was scheduled to make a decision Monday on whether or not to use a $100,000 loan to fix the leaky roof. However, the council postponed the decision in order to get more information about how much it would cost to not only fix the roof, but to rehab the building in full.
The city purchased the building at a property tax sale in August for a little more than $20,000 and then turned it over to the Niles Main Street Downtown Development Authority for management and marketing.
Lisa Croteau, of the DDA, said several investors have shown interest in the building, but all backed out due to the building’s leaky roof.
Councilman Scott Clark said he thinks the building needs more than $1 million worth of rehab, including roof repairs, mold removal and upgrades to the heating, cooling and electrical. Spending $100,000, he said, would amount to placing a patch on a much larger problem.
“I don’t think taxpayers have any business standing up to put forward this amount in a loan,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one thing to do and that’s tear it down and make a pocket parking lot.”
Clark mentioned that Elkhart, Ind. has had success tearing down problem buildings and putting pocket parking lots in their place.
Councilman David Mann said he isn’t in favor of the loan.
“There is a thin line between gambling and investment, and to me this is more of a gamble than an investment,” he said. “We are not sure if we will ever get our money back… it makes me worry about if the money is being well spent.”
Mayor Mike McCauslin said he disagreed with Clark’s suggestion to raze the building, estimating it would cost around $250,000 to do so. He described the building as an historic landmark, and said the condition of the building isn’t as bad as it is being made out to be.
“We have a financial investment in that building. Obviously it’s not a lot, but if you are thinking about tearing it down it is going to cost a lot more than (fixing the roof),” he said.
The loan would come in the form of a line of credit taken from the city’s electrical division reserve funds. The money would be loaned to the city’s general fund and used by the DDA to repair the roof.
If the council decides to take out the loan, $40,000 of it would be used immediately to fix the worst portion of the roof. The DDA would then seek grant funds to pay for the rest of the roof, while using the remaining $60,000 as leverage for matching grants.
Councilman Dan VandenHeede asked City Manager Ric Huff if taking out a line of credit would affect electrical utility rates. Huff said it is possible, but unlikely, that an amount of $100,000 would affect rates. Taxpayers would ultimately be responsible for paying back the loan, since it is coming from the general fund, Huff said.
The history of the building dates back to the 1800s, when it was a three-story building that housed a variety of businesses, including a barber shop, cabinet maker and shoe and boot shop. Fire destroyed the building in the 1920s and was rebuilt as the two-story structure seen today. It housed many businesses in the 1900s, including the JC Penny Company in the 1950s to ‘70s.