Land bank moves ahead cautiously on Eagles building

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NELSONVILLE — Members of the Athens County land bank voted Wednesday to move ahead on plans to acquire the historic Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge No. 39 in Nelsonville, despite expressions of concern about the building’s crumbling condition on its back side and project financing.

The board of directors of the land bank, officially known as the Athens County Land Reutilization Corporation, agreed to accept a letter of irrevocable credit in the amount of up to $50,000 from the Eagles building’s future owner, Daniel Sherman of Nelsonville. The letter protects the land bank, which will become the building’s future owner on a temporary basis, should the project Sherman is working toward default and demolition be required.

Sherman, also the city council president, said his future plans are to acquire the building through a non-profit corporation he has established, known as the Nelsonville Downtown Foundation. His plans are to create a boutique hotel with up to eight rooms and have three business tenants occupy the storefronts of the building along West Washington Street next to Nelsonville’s Public Square.

The land bank board, led by Chairman Chris Chmiel, also moved forward on a contract with Sherman as well as title work, with those documents to be ready for a vote by land bank board members Oct. 17. The contract is to spell out the construction and financing obligations of Sherman as he continues to seek donor funding and grants to renovate a historic building built in 1903. Some local officials have estimated the full cost of repair, construction and remodeling at more than $1 million.

Should documents be signed Oct. 17, then the next part of the project would involve the land bank acquiring the property, likely through a deed in lieu of foreclosure. Sherman would ultimately become the owner, or “end user,” of the property once he and his non-profit corporation fulfill the terms of their contract to renovate the Eagles building. In return, thousands of dollars in back property taxes owed on the project would be removed by the land bank.

The city of Nelsonville Fire Department condemned the property more than a year ago, due to water damage over the decades that continues to impact the back wall of the building. The front of the building, and the back of the building, are both fenced off.

Sherman presented the land bank board with a letter created in May by Schooley Caldwell of Columbus, an architectural firm Sherman received repair and construction estimates from. They set the Phase I cost of the project — shoring up the structure, rebuilding the back wall, roof repairs and concrete block work — at $290,000. Phase I is referred to as “stabilization” and “future phases will be required to make the building (occupant ready) and utilized to its full potential,” the letter states.

Concerns about the back wall of the building were concerned at the land bank meeting and during Monday’s Nelsonville City Council meeting. Gall asked the land bank if the building is insured “if something crashes.” Chmiel said it is insured.

Nelsonville City Council member Dottie Fromal said from her view of the back of the building from where she works near the city’s Public Square, she has seen pieces of the building fall off recently as it continues to deteriorate from water damage. Fromal operates The Hive, an after-school program for children, and said one of her concerns is that children pass through a parking lot next to the building on their way to Nelsonville Public Library.

Nelsonville City Manager Charles Barga, however, said the city stands behind Sherman as he continues his efforts to restore the Eagles building. Barga called it a highly important landmark building next to Public Square.

“So yes, we’re behind it all the way,” Barga said.

Chmiel said he gives credit to Sherman for being the only individual who expressed interest in renovating and occupying the former Eagles building, after Eagles members could no longer meet their obligations to keep the building intact.

Chmiel also expressed caution, however.

“There’s a lot of concern about this being a boondoggle,” Chmiel said, addressing Sherman.

Asked Thursday what he meant by “boondoggle,” Chmiel said there are people who have expressed concerns about Sherman’s abilities to perform all obligations as outlined related to project financing and construction requirements.

County Treasurer and land bank member Ric Wasserman said Thursday that Sherman has said previously he has some financial backing on the project from Mike Brooks, which was mentioned during a previous land bank meeting.

On Wednesday, Sherman told land bank board members he also plans to raise funds by allowing citizens to place their names on bricks that will be constructed once the back wall block has been erected. Bricks will be placed over the wall, and a naming right for one brick would be $11, he said.

Chmiel said the land bank is being as positive with all of its future property acquisitions as possible as they move toward finding new “end users” for rehabilitated properties that can once again become tax-paying, productive homes or businesses.

“We do need to have some deadlines (for the Eagles building), though,” he said.