StewMac Building to be a designated historic building

Click here for the original story in the Athens Messenger





The stately, brick building at the corner of Shafer and State Streets has long been known by Athens residents as a focal point of the city’s west side.

Now, more than a century after being first built, local officials have prepared a historic designation in its honor.

The designation is one part of a larger process to renovate the building, which council member Chris Fahl called a “historic Athens institution” and a “cornerstone of that area.”

Stewart-MacDonald Manufacturing Co., which has been located there for decades, purchased the building earlier this year. The company is a mail-order business that sells supplies and related items for guitars and other stringed instruments.

The Athens County Economic Development Council, which has been supporting the new designation, submitted a historical narrative to council to help spur the ordinance. Sara Marrs-Maxfield, executive director of the economic development council, said that StewMac plans to renovate so as to utilize the whole 4-story building.

“They will be doing the renovations within the historic renovations guidelines,” Marrs-Maxfield said. “Designating the business as a historically significant building within the city of Athens is the first step to pursuing some state and federal tax credits that will help them offset the very large price tag to renovating an old building like that.”

Marrs-Maxfield noted the cost of building an entirely new building outside the city limits of Athens would be less expensive than a full renovation, sparking the need for a historic designation to offset some of these costs.

“We would rather see an old building like that renovated and in full re-use before building outside of the city,” she said.

The building at 21 N. Shafer was originally built in 1906 for use by a local businessman, Frank Stedman. He owned a wholesale grocery business as well as the Stedman Packing Co., which operated out of 340 W. State Street (now the Ohio University Innovation Center).

By the early 1920s, the grocery business had been purchased by the C.D. Shafer Company, which some local historians speculate is the namesake of Shafer Street. The building was later utilized by McBee’s, a specialty printing services building.

Local historian Cyrus Moore III said on Monday that the designation would be “a great benefit to StewMac and the Athens Community.”

He also noted that other historic buildings in town have been destroyed, including two Athens Brick Company houses on Stimson Avenue just last week. Those buildings were demolished to make way for an office building.

“StewMac is doing the community a service by ensuring that an iconic building remains,” Moore told The Messenger said via email. “There are benefits to StewMac as a business as well. Though I serve on the Historic Preservation Commission, I am not an expert on historic designations, but my understanding is that having a building designated locally is the first step to having it added to the National Register of Historic Places.”

He noted that being on the national register can grant the business located within tax breaks for maintaining the building, and may allow the business to apply for grants.

“In my opinion, StewMac should be congratulated for their foresight and long term planning by maintaining an historic building,” Moore said.

Mayor Steve Patterson noted that the building is also within one of the downtown redevelopment districts (DRDs) within the city.

“There will be other things going through council (as part of this district),” Fahl said. “This is one of the first positive things we can do to go down that road, doing the DRD.”