City to consider selling Carnegie Library to local entrepreneurs

Published 2:30 pm Friday, July 1, 2022

NILES — The City of Niles is considering selling the historic Carnegie Library building to a local group looking to bring entertainment to the community.

Sheila and Carl Koebel and Sean Shank want to purchase the historic property for $100, using it to bring a comedy club and speakeasy lounge to downtown Niles. According to Sheila, the comedy club would be located on the first floor while the bar would be on the second floor.

“We want to laugh,” she said. “We want to have fun. We want to bring people downtown that maybe wouldn’t come to Niles. People travel a good two to three hours to see a comedian that they want to see. People want to laugh; people want to feel good. …I am so tired of negativity. I want to see people come in and forget about your mother-in-law living with you, forget about the bills, whatever. We have a lot to offer and I think if you build it, they will come.”

The Koebels have long been active in the community via food events, fundraisers and the like, preferring to be involved in the background. Last year, Sheila stepped into the light and joined forces with Mayor Nick Shelton to create the Greater Niles Sights & Lights Decorating Contest.

“She is one of the best people I’ve ever had a chance to meet,” Shelton said. “She has a huge heart, she works her butt off and she is generous, so I’m excited about this opportunity. I don’t care what the business is, I care about the person and I believe Sheila is a good person. I think this would be a really good direction for the community and I think Sheila and Carl at the helm is awesome.”

Niles’ Carnegie Library building opened in 1904 through a grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie, matched with community funds. The program required that communities requesting the grant demonstrate a need for a library in their town. They also had to provide land for the building and set aside annual funds for the library’s operations. Carnegie provided $15,000 for the building construction. The Federation of Women’s Clubs, private donors and the city raised funds for furnishing and staff. 

After the Niles District Library was built in 1963, the historic building housed the Chamber of Commerce for roughly 40 years until the chamber moved its offices to City Hall.

Because of the historic nature of the building, council discussed the possibility of taking it back in the event the project cannot be completed.

“I feel like the city has an obligation to try to maintain (the building’s) integrity,” said City Administrator Ric Huff. “It’s one of the key buildings that makes Niles what it is. I would encourage a purchase agreement that has language that could protect the building should the worst-case scenario happen.”

City Administrator Ric Huff said the selling price of the building is so low because of the extensive repairs the buyers would have to make. Koebel said if the city agreed to sell the building that she hopes to open in September 2023 after renovations.

“It’s going to take a year to do it,” she said. “The mason that I have can’t even get to me until next spring. Contractors are booked for the summer already. My summer is going to be gone by the time you guys decide if this is going t work. We can still renovate, we can still be landscape, we can get inside the dumpster, get all the mold out from downstairs and we can get going.”

Koebel’s concept was well-received by the council, with the main concern being the necessary repairs to the building. Downtown Development Authority Director Lisa Croteau said a downtown liquor license alone would cost $20,000, but added the building is eligible for tax credits and other programs that could offset costs.

“You guys have a great idea. I love it,” said council member John DiCostanzo. “I really think that would be a wonderful improvement to the downtown, to preserve that building. I’m just afraid that you’re going to get stuck in the middle of it and get bogged down. I think we need to see a little bit more planning before I can commit.”

Sheila assured the council that her group has the necessary resources to see the project through.

“We’ve been working on this since March,” she said. “I’ve had funds buried in a Folgers can out back. We’re ready; we’ve been ready. We’ve paid down all our personal bills and we’re ready to take on any bills that we would get. We can’t open for a year; I have money stashed knowing I’m not going to have any. I’m still working my job and (Carl) is still working his job. So, it’s going to take us that long to get it up and running properly.”

Shank said he has been in the comedy industry for roughly 30 years and has known the Koebels for years. He believes in their dream to make Niles a comedy destination for the area.

“It draws people from an average of 1.5 hours away, and that’s just for any standup show,” he said. It could be me headlining and people will come from 1.5 hours away just because of the stand-up. If they have a comic that they like, they will come from as far as Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis.”

While no decision was made, Shelton suggested that a purchase agreement be drawn up for a future council meeting, with a buy-back option in the event the project falls through.