Jack Strayer: Beware the wrecking ball, againPublished 9:07am Thursday, December 26, 2013
Back in the 1960s and 1970s when “urban renewal” came to downtown and we lost everything on the south side of Main Street between Second Street and Front Street, the citizens of Niles simply looked the other way as the wrecking ball destroyed the character of downtown Niles.
If you are paying attention to the Niles City Council, you probably have noticed that plans are being discussed to bring back the wrecking ball for the eventual razing of a number of high-profile Niles office buildings, abandoned factories, store fronts, houses and the old YMCA.
Discussions about specific sites being demolished include the old Kawneer Company headquarters on Front Street next to the new YMCA, to the former Niles Police station at Third and Broadway. That particular site is tricky because it also includes the really ugly electrical substation along the river. That eyesore needs to be razed and moved, but the cost to do so is prohibitive. Not much can be built on the policeman’s hill site until a solution can be found regarding the substation.
We know the Main Street Bridge’s days are numbered and so is the old YMCA site at the western end of the bridge.
There is talk about demolishing the old YMCA and constructing town homes on the site, but home buyers might be concerned about what lies directly across the river: Riverfront Park and the Band Shell. With three weekly concerts and lots of summer festivals, it might be difficult to convince a homebuyer that the music won’t bother them.
The old National Standard factories and headquarters at Eighth Street and Wayne are targeted for demolition and that would be a good place to start. Abandoned factories are really the worst visual blight.
But the biggest mistake Niles could make is to tear down the old bank building/Pauls Toggery/Niles Center at Second and Main Street.
The city currently is trying to find the funds to restore this building at the center of town and they simply must succeed. Talk of a “pocket parking lot” came up and repulsed just about everyone in town. This building has more character and architectural detail than any other building in our historic business district.
The city council must proceed cautiously when directing the wrecking ball. Some of these buildings must go and certainly many must be saved. Let your elected officials at city hall know your thoughts.
We know they care because they were savvy enough to swap the Chapin Mansion for the old Savings and Loan building that has now been re-purposed as an attractive and convenient municipal center.
Everyone in town cheered that deal.
And everyone in town will cheer a deal to save the corner of Second and Main.
A native of Niles, Jack Strayer moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington DC since 1976. Strayer has served as a congressional staffer, state legislative press secretary, federal registered lobbyist and Vice President of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is a nationally recognized expert on federal health policy reform and led the fight for the enactment of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)