A portion of a wall at 519/520 N. Main facing Main Street crumbled Sept. 24, and since that time it appears little has been done — but the work to get the sidewalk cleaned up and Main Street fully reopened has progressed.
Albeit, behind the scenes.
“The owner of the building has been scrambling to try and get their business reopened normally,” aid Kelly McElroy, assistant city manager for the City of Newton.
Visibly, a few bricks are gone and traffic control measures have changed. An awning still lays on the sidewalk with bricks that have fallen.
McElroy has been working to help facilitate work on the building — though her role, and the role of the city, is limited.
“It is a privately owned building. It is not an expense of the city nor is it our jurisdiction other than to oversee code in the building,” McElroy said.
"We do have things we could do, they are rather heavy handed. We could pursue that as public nuisance,” added Bob Myers, city manager. “We could use some authority and take some immediate actions, though that would be more in the nature of demolition. I think as long as they are making a reasonable effort to keep moving forward I think it would serve our interests to give them some reasonable latitude. … Right now there is no indication that they are doing anything but trying to move ahead as well as they can.
Right now, everyone is playing a bit of a waiting game as a structural engineer creates drawings to stabilize and reinforce the second floor of the building. Once those drawings are done and work completed, work on the failed wall can begin.
Meanwhile, there is a decision needing to be made by the property owner — whether to preserve the historic nature of the building or not. Constructed in the 1870s, the building is one of the oldest in downtown and is listed on multiple historic registers.
The east wall, according to city staff, will need to be torn down and reconstructed. What that wall will look like, and how it will be constructed, is a decision that needs to be made.
It is also not an easy decision.
“He needs to decide if he is going to go back with the same type of brick that was there to maintain his national listing status,” McElroy said. “(To do that) he has to go back with brick that is the same size, design, shape and color. The windows will have to go back into the same place.”
Should ownership go with preserving the historic nature of the building, they would be eligible for tax credits.
“That could be significant,” McElroy said. “It could be 30 percent of the cost of the project. … He originally had in mind a material he wanted to use, but after looking at the tax credit project he said he needed to talk it over with his financial advisors.”
Choosing to use other materials would require a sign off by the local historic preservation commission and would not allow for tax credits.
The process could, according to city staff, take several months.