If the demolition of the three-story, 130-year-old building at 124 S. Main St. in Ottawa were approved, CrossFirst Bank of Leawood would leave the vacant lot in pristine condition, an attorney representing the bank told Ottawa city commissioners in mid-February.
That statement has turned out to be the most unfulfilled prophecy of 2012 in Ottawa. And with a month left, the likelihood of transforming the lot into anything that resembles pristine condition this year is slipping away like sand in an hourglass.
“We wish we wouldn’t have foreclosed on the building now, but we take full responsibility for the building,” Jay Shadwick, the Overland Park attorney representing the CrossFirst Bank, said during a Feb. 15 public hearing called by Ottawa city commissioners to consider demolition of the building in the historic downtown district.
“We have a reputation to maintain, and we want to be a good citizen,” Shadwick continued. “I can assure you it would be the best looking vacant lot in the county.”
That statement elicited chuckles from audience members who were packed into the commission chambers at City Hall on that cold February night. I even remember smiling as I wrote down the attorney’s words.
No one is chuckling now.
Some 10 months later, a temporary mural — depicting a period clothing storefront — hides the barren lot at 124 S. Main St. Even the most forgiving resident would not consider the lot to be in pristine condition.
Blake Jorgensen, then a city commissioner and now mayor, said at the conclusion of the first public hearing Feb. 1 that he wanted to study the feasibility of a partial demolition.
“I would hate to see us lose another building downtown,” he said. “Losing that building would be akin to a front tooth missing in a smile.”
The initial engineering report indicated “the south wall was buckled approximately 3 feet out of plane at the parapet, and the north wall exhibited a similar buckled condition.” The report also listed walls that had become structurally compromised and that mortar had little strength. The report’s conclusion: “The probability of catastrophic structural failure makes the building a potentially life-threatening situation. The building in its current condition is unsafe to occupy.”
While one engineer said the first floor and basement might be salvageable, the cost to shore up that portion of the building was estimated to be $200,000 — perhaps more. CrossFirst Bank representatives said the bank was not willing to make that kind of investment in the building’s restoration. And no one was willing to step forward, buy the property and take on the project.
Jorgensen, then-Mayor Gene Ramsey and other city commissioners admitted after hearing even more dire evidence — presented by engineers representing the bank and the city at the Feb. 15 hearing — that the historic structure had to come down.
The commission voted 5-0 that Wednesday evening to approve total demolition of the buckling building.
The death knell sounded for a building a faded Ottawa Daily Republican article had called a monument to civic pride — a testament to Col. Samuel B. Rohrbaugh’s business acumen.
The three-story brick building — once an architectural jewel of Ottawa’s downtown — no longer wore its ornate “S.B. Rohrbaugh” crown in January when city workers cordoned off the structure as a public safety measure. Years of neglect, evidenced by a rotting wood floor and a buckling brick wall, had taken a toll on this monument to commerce, built in 1882 by Rohrbaugh, one of the most influential men in Ottawa’s history.
Now, an ugly vacant lot, with an occasional brick strewn here and there, is all that remains of his work.
Jorgensen described the lot best when he called it a missing tooth in the historic downtown’s smile.
At very least, the lot at 124 S. Main St. has given the city a toothache.
Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org