Debate over historic property heats up

By Beth Sergent - [email protected]

POINT PLEASANT — A historic building, and its future, were once again a major topic of discussion at this week’s meeting of Point Pleasant City Council.

Sharon Stapleton of Peoples Bank spoke to council about the bank wishing to “gift” the building behind its Main Street Branch, as well as a portion of the parking lot the building sits on, to the city. The historic, brick building sits next to the bank’s old drive-thru and was reportedly the home of the practice of Henry J. Fisher, one of the best known attorneys in this section of the state at one time.

Though the building wouldn’t cost the city any money to obtain, Mayor Brian Billings and several members of council had questions about the cost of insurance on a structure that requires stabilizing – with the Franklin building still in the minds of many.

At this week’s meeting were Sandy Dunn and Mario Liberatore, as well as Rachel Proffitt, of the historic landmark commission.

Dunn, from Main Street Point Pleasant, said the organization wished to take on the renovations of the building and would find funding sources. She said the organization had a proven track record with assisting in the development, and funding, of the Point Pleasant Riverfront Park, the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center and the ongoing efforts at the Kisar Home.

Mayor Brian Billings expressed concerns about the condition of the Fisher building. City Inspector Randy Hall said, though he was not against the preservation efforts, in his opinion, the building was in “deplorable shape.” Though Hall said he felt the building was “salvageable” renovations would be “terribly costly and time consuming.”Hall said he would like to see an engineer’s assessment of the building and cost estimate.

There was a debate, however, on just how unstable the building was by Dunn, Councilwoman Jerrie Howard and Proffitt. At some point, all three cited a needs and evaluation report done by Architect Mike Gioulis, who works with Main Street Point Pleasant on various projects concerning historic preservation. Proffitt said some at the meeting made it to sound like the building was falling down and, she felt, “it is not ready to fall down,” referencing the Gioulis report.

Both the Mayor and City Clerk Amber Tatterson spoke about insurance liability, having seen the city’s premiums raise by $100,000 at one point when the Franklin building was in its possession. Prior to its demolition, liability on the Franklin building alone was over $8,000 a year.

Tatterson said the city’s local insurance agent shopped around for quotes on the Fisher building, sending requests to 12 different companies with only one company quoting a price. That price is $1,725.08 a year but with a stipulation that the renovations be completed within 10-12 months. If not, the policy would be reevaluated and could run anywhere from $8,000-10,000 a year. This is just liability insurance, it doesn’t cover the actual building.

There were questions about what “completed” meant, with those who wish to save the building discussing the renovations as being done in stages, with the first stage being the roof and walls – basically getting the building stable and safe. Other phases would require likely more time and money. The initial phase of stabilizing was estimated at around $30,000 but Dunn said she thought it was possible to get it done for less.

Still, the question loomed as to what “completed” meant.

The mayor was concerned about the city taking on the cost for insurance and liability at a time when he said it was a priority to keep the city in good financial shape and to give hourly employees a cost-of-living raise by July 1. He had also previously stated he was concerned if fundraising efforts for renovations fell flat, and the city had accepted the building, it would be stuck with another dilapidated structure.

Billings said he was representing the citizens who had contacted him and those who haven’t, who may feel accepting this building was not the right thing to do. He said he wanted council to see the whole picture on this issue, adding he was concerned with “today” and if others were so “adamant” about preserving the building, then why didn’t they do so without obligating the citizens of Point Pleasant and “keep us out it.”

“We don’t have the money to do this, I’m telling you folks,” Billings stated.

Dunn said she felt as mayor, Billings should understand the importance of history to the city. She told the mayor he supported spending money on a splash pad but not “preserving our history?”

Billings disagreed with Dunn’s assessment of his remarks.

When the discussion once again turned back to the insurance costs, Howard said she felt it would be no greater than any other building the city owns to insure, once stabilized. Dunn said comparing the Franklin building with the Fisher building was comparing “apples to oranges.” She said she felt this was a small, historic building, with no adjoining walls to other property and it was not sitting on a main road.

“It’s small and it can be fixed,” Dunn added.

“We have already lost so many historic buildings, I don’t know how we can lose any more,” Howard said, stating the city could not lose its historic charter. “Once it’s gone, you’re not going to get it back.”

Proffitt also said a committee has formed to look at what can be developed in that area near the flood wall where the building sits and to examine what exactly would be a good use of the building. Proffitt added that building opened up a whole new area that the city didn’t have access to develop before.

City Attorney Michael Shaw, said he was not advocating for either side, and as an independent voice, had questions. Those significant questions, in his mind, were, what does “completed” mean to the insurance company and once getting that definition of “completed” is obtained, is a contractor able to adhere to a timeline.

The discussion was tabled with the possibility of a special meeting prior to the June meeting to once again evaluate the issue.

By Beth Sergent

[email protected]

Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at [email protected]

Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at [email protected]