City seeking ideas for space

Published 8:19 am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Demolition began Monday on the former public safety complex located at the corner of Broadway and Second streets in Niles. (Leader photo/AMBROSIA NELDON)

Demolition began Monday on the former public safety complex located at the corner of Broadway and Second streets in Niles. (Leader photo/AMBROSIA NELDON)

Demolition moves forward at former public safety building

After more than 10 years of searching for a feasible option for the former public safety complex at the corner of Broadway and Second streets, demolition has officially begun.

According to Neil Coulston, a retired public works director for the City of Niles who has been tasked with overseeing the project, demolition began Monday on phase one.

“Since the building was vacated by the city we’ve had plenty of interest in the property over the years, but thus far no parties have stepped forward with a solid plan of action and the financial wherewithal to make their plan a reality,” said Niles Community Development Director Juan Ganum.

Ganum and Coulston said the city is very interested in finding a new entity to fill the space, whether that means demolishing the entire complex to start fresh or rehabbing the current property.

“What we’ve been telling everyone is that there’s no price tag, no fixed or firm price on the building. What we’re interested in is seeing a sound idea that makes sense for the community of downtown Niles,” Ganum said. “We’re very negotiable in essence. We’re looking for an idea more than we’re looking for a large sum of money.”

Ganum said there has been no lack of ideas for the facility, and he and other city workers have walked several interested parties through the building in consideration of the viability of the options. For a number of reasons, though, none of the ideas have quite panned out.

“A bar/restaurant has been a frequent suggestion. Everyone wants to make use of the jail cells,” Ganum said. “Then you walk in and realize there are only three or four really small jail cells.”

“The problem is that there’s no large room. It would take a lot of money to effectively repurpose that building. And a great architect,” Ganum said.

Other ideas have included a health spa, a private residence or a church.

As of now, city officials think the most realistic option is to demolish the entire space and use the land to create a medium- to high-density residential facility.

As such, the city has decided demolishing the building is the best option, and Ritschard Bros., Inc., of South Bend began razing the oldest portion of the building, the chimney and large garage, which Coulston said housed the public works facility until 1979 and then served as a garage and storage facility until the building was vacated.

The Niles City Council allocated $92,000 for phase one, including demolition and asbestos removal, at its Jan. 27 meeting.

The public safety building was erected in 1939.

Throughout the 64 years of operation, the public safety complex housed a number of entities, including the fire, police and public works department, but also city council chambers, a courthouse and finally a senior citizen center, which closed in 2002.

Coulston said the first phase of demolition is moving along smoothly.

“Right now they’re working to separate the building that we’re tearing down from the remaining structure. I’m guessing in two to three weeks it will be down,” he said.

Ganum said there is no estimated completion date for the demolition of the entire public works facility.

“We hope the next and final phase involves the demolition of the remainder of the structure, which includes the former police station, fire station and courthouse, but it’s conceivable that these structure will be removed in multiple phases,” Ganum said. “Of course, the schedule depends entirely on the availability of funds.”