Downtown destination developing

Public-private partnerships pave way for unprecedented wave of urban renewal

downtown Duff

Jason Duff, one of the primary developers of downtown Bellefontaine properties, poses for a photo inside an upper level space above the Native Coffee Co. A positive working relationship with the city has helped Duff and other local developers lead the downtown into a new phase of unprecedented growth. (EXAMINER PHOTO | REUBEN MEES)

The effort to revitalize downtown Bellefontaine had a prosperous year in 2017 as local government worked hand-in-hand with developers to save an architectural treasure, develop the city’s first on-street dining area and commit to the restoration of the Holland Theatre.

In a flurry of activity along west Columbus Avenue, this year also saw an Asian restaurant owner make a sizable investment in a new commercial kitchen, an electric company repurpose a building to create a new recreational golfing draw and a young entrepreneur open a nightclub among numerous other developments.

There are also a number of new projects starting that seem to be pointing toward another year of positive momentum in 2018, city leaders and project developers say.

Preserving a gem

Possibly the largest and most visible project came when Bellefontaine’s city leaders and developer Ron Coleman announced a plan in August to save the former Bellefontaine Post Office on the southwest corner of Detroit Street and Chillicothe Avenue.

downtown post office

One of the hallmark projects of downtown Bellefontaine’s development from 2017 is the partnership between the City of Bellefontaine and developer Ron Coleman that allowed him to use $30,000 in public money that would have went toward demolition of the historic structure. City workers also spent a day clearing the vegetation that had overtaken the building before transferring ownership.

Just a year ago, city and county officials were laying a plan to use upward of $100,000 in public money to tear down the 103-year-old building that was home to the city’s postal services from 1914 to 1964. The building, which once boasted impressive marble floors and counters along with wrought iron staircases, had been neglected for decades and fallen into disrepair. Other developers had pitched proposals to save the historic building but they never came to fruition.

Coleman examined the building along with a structural engineer and fellow downtown developer Jason Duff. They determined that the concrete structure is still solid, although the metal roof needed replaced and the interior would largely have to be gutted. But it was salvageable, they said.

Coleman put together a proposal in which the city would turn the old post office over to him and provide $30,000 in assistance from the $100,000 intended for the demolition to rehabilitate the building. He has certain timelines to meet to receive the money and has been making progress toward the plan, City Service Safety Director Jim Holycross and Mayor Ben Stahler said.

“None of us loved the idea of tearing it down, but we wanted the blight to go away,” Holycross said of the eyesore. “We did our due diligence and vetting to make sure they have the ability to do this, but the city was able to commit $30,000. We didn’t write a check, but have been paying out portions as they provide receipts and show progress on the timeline.”

The dilapidated metal roof has been entirely removed, and, although no replacement has yet been installed, the concrete structure atop the building itself is sufficient to protect the interior for the immediate future, the developers and city officials say. A large amount of the mess inside the building has been removed and the overgrown vegetation around the exterior has been eliminated.

Coleman said he will be installing a new roof, which will have metal sloping panels that look similar to the original copper roof with a Duralast rubber roof on the flat portion that is not visible from ground level. Work will continue on the project over the winter as weather permits, but there are still no plans for what the ultimate use may be.

“We’re getting ready to start the roof as soon as the weather breaks,” he said. “The inside is all cleaned out and once we get the roof on there we can start addressing the windows and doors and get it a little more secure. Then we can start to put it back together and make it look really nice again.”


Read complete story and more year-end news in Thursday's Examiner
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