By Steve Robb
The original story can be found here in the Athens Messenger
The Stewart-MacDonald building at 21 N. Shafer St. in Athens will undergo renovations that will allow more of the building to be put into use, which is expected to result in 19 additional jobs at that location.

An agreement under which Stewart-MacDonald Manufacturing Co. is to receive a property tax abatement for an expansion at its Athens location was approved Tuesday by the Athens County Commissioners.

The agreement is expected to create more than dozen new jobs in town.

Under the enterprise zone agreement, the company — known as StewMac — will receive a 60-percent, 10-year abatement of real estate taxes on improvements it will make to its building at 21 Shafer St. The company is required to retain 47 full-time jobs and create 19 more in exchange for the abatement. Also, StewMac is to cover a minimum of 50 percent of employee health insurance costs under the agreement.

The abatement still requires a final OK from the state.

StewMac is a mail-order business that sells parts, tools and supplies for repair and construction of guitars and other stringed instruments, related books and plans, instrument accessories, and kits for construction of guitars and other instruments. The company is well known among instrument builders and sells internationally.

It has been located at Shafer Street for many years, and this past summer purchased the building for $800,000.

Sara Marrs-Maxfield, executive director of the Athens County Economic Development Council, told the commissioners that the company will be investing about $3.5 million in the building, which is located at the corner of Shafer and West State Streets. Currently, one floor is in use, but when the project is completed the basement and all three floors will be utilized, she said.

Scott Johnston, StewMac’s chief financial officer, said the company will be moving its operations at Alexander Twp. Road 1269 (Banjo Hill) and at Waverly Manufacturing in Bozeman, Montana, to the Shafer Street location.

Johnston said the goal is to have those operations moved to Shafer Street by April.

Because the abatement will not exceed 60 percent, it does not require approval of Athens City Schools and Tri-County Career Center. The partial abatement only applies to the added value that is in excess of the current value of the land and building.

“The company has received a JobsOhio offer which includes a $400,000 JobsOhio revitalization grant to help with the historic preservation upgrades that are being made at the building site,” Marrs-Maxfield said. “The city of Athens is also participating in this project. We’re still working on the details of that.”

Commissioner Chris Chmiel asked if undertaking the project means the company plans to stay in Athens.

“That’s the idea, yes. We like Athens, we think it’s a great place,” Johnston said. “The building is going to look pretty much like it does now. We’re not going to fundamentally change the exterior or anything, so it’s really just getting an interior and exterior facelift to preserve the building, the structure…”

The commissioners also agreed to provide a letter of support so that StewMax can apply for historic preservation tax credits.

In September, Athens City Council approved an ordinance declaring the building at 21 Shafer St. a local historic building. Constructed in 1906 by local businessman Frank Stedman, older residents in Athens will recall that at one time it housed part of the McBee Co. operations in the city.

“It’s significantly more expensive for them to rehab this building in an historically accurate manner than it would be for them to build somewhere outside the city from the ground up,” Marrs-Maxfield said.