The original story can be found here in the Athens News
Outside of the Athens Armory on North Court Street in Athens. 
The old Athens Armory that anchors the north end of Court Street in uptown Athens is awaiting a new tenant or tenants, though the high price tag for renovating the building remains a big roadblock in efforts to successfully find tenants.

Still, The Athens NEWS traipsed through the inside of the vacant building with City Planner Paul Logue the day after Christmas, to get an idea of the great potential locked inside the building (built in 1915, dedicated in 1917) despite those costs. The building was sold to the city in 1997.

Logue provided The NEWS with a copy of a planning study conducted in 2016 that suggested a number of new purposes that the building could host, but also noted that renovation of the building would cost at least $1.85 million, with new HVAC and plumbing systems and a new elevator and ADA compliance measures, on top of abatement of lead-based paint and other fixes to the building.

The building has a large, open main floor that contains what looks like an old basketball court (where Logue said local firefighters at one time played pick-up basketball games). It’s currently used as a storage space for the local Honey for the Heart program’s giant puppets.

Meanwhile, the lower floor (on the ground level, although it looks like a basement) has plenty of room, too, formerly being used as a storage place for city records, with multiple small office-sized rooms adjoining a large central, open space.

The top floor (called the mezzanine) has several rooms close to a small balcony that overlooks the main floor. The planning study, conducted by the city, RVC Architects and ACEnet (the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks) lists a variety of potential uses for each level. They include:

• On the main floor: Space for events, receptions and public meetings; a conference and expo venue; office and possible retail space, with restrooms; a visitor’s space or welcome center; and more storage.

• On the lower level: Commercial kitchen; Smaller conference and meeting space, with flexible partitions in places to accommodate meeting or “pop-up” retail space; space for a veteran tribute display; and restrooms and storage.

• On the mezzanine: Space for venue media equipment; mechanical rooms; space for two to three offices; or additional gallery or display space.

The building was formerly owned by the Ohio National Guard, a place where new draftees reported and where the Ladies Aid Society held benefits in the early 1900s, The NEWS previously reported. Downstairs was also once the headquarters of the Grand Army of the Republic, an association of Union veterans of the Civil War. The land beneath the building was purchased by the Ohio National Guard from the Athens Brick Company in 1912, and Logue said that the building is made from local bricks.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said Wednesday that he believes the building has great potential. That being the case, he added, the city stands ready to help with the steep cost of renovating the building, in addition to help with finding grant money to defray those costs.

Logue added that the city would like to have conversations with other large local agencies or institutions such as Ohio University and the county government to get their support toward renovating the building.

“So, we don’t have the money of course… but our strategy right now has been trying to find grant funding to support that,” Logue said.

Patterson said that the city has tried twice to get funding for renovation of the building through the state of Ohio’s annual biennial capital budget planning process, but has been unsuccessful each time. He said that state Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, helped the city in its second (and most recent) submission requesting money for the Armory.

Logue mentioned that both Edwards and state Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, have said they’d like to help the city find funding or other help to renovate the building. Neither Edwards nor Hoagland responded to a request for comment sent on Dec. 31, or a follow-up email sent Jan. 2.

Patterson noted that three different cities requested funding for renovation of their armories in the most recent capital budget.

“Here’s these grand old buildings, one in Marietta, one in Chillicothe, and ours, and sadly to say, the Chillicothe one was partially funded, the Marietta ask was partially funded, but Athens was not funded,” Patterson said.

Patterson said that the city is currently seeking potential tenants to enter into a “long-term lease agreement” with the city for some of the more business-amenable space in the building. The city would like to keep a public-use component in the main hall of the building, likely as a public meeting space that can be rented out for public and private events, the mayor said.

Patterson added that the city is committed to maintaining the building, and has invested at least $230,000 in the last 20-plus years to ensure it doesn’t fall into total disrepair. Most recently, the city invested roughly $70,000 into exterior masonry work in 2015, as well as roughly $33,000 in removal of asbestos and other hazardous materials. Still, the structure needs a lot of work, including removal of lead-based paint.

LOGUE AND PATTERSON said the city would like to continue to honor the building’s military history.

“We want to help tell that story as well,” Logue said. “We had Athens County people who came into the building as one of the last places they went before they were shipped out overseas. Sadly, some of them never made it back, and that’s an important story we want to tell.”

Touches of that military history can be seen throughout the building, especially in the basement, including a room protected by a heavy metal door that possibly once held munitions, Logue said.

Ohio historian Cyrus Moore III (formerly of Athens, now of Columbus), said that a lot of community events were held in the building; the Southeast Ohio History Center has dance cards from dances held at the building, for example.

“The thing that I always like to stress is it’s a community building; it was always intended to be a community building,” Moore said. “It did serve a military purpose but that was only part-time… the rest of the time it was there to serve the community.”

Logue recalled a number of community events happening in the armory. He said the large open room on the main floor – which likely was once used to hold training exercises and public events by the National Guard – has played host to at least one wedding. If the city’s lucky, the Armory may one day be ready to host another one.