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Friday, January 25, 2013 8:12 PM

Options vary for donated former Sears building

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer

The Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation received a belated Christmas gift in the form of an 8,000-square-foot building in the community’s historic downtown business district.

Though it wasn’t exactly a gift — it still cost the foundation about $30,000 — Chamber and Franklin County Development Council officials are viewing it as a donation that not only benefits their organizations but the community as a whole, John Coen, the Chamber’s president and chief executive officer, said Thursday.

Roger Johnson, a Lawrence investor who has owned several properties in Ottawa, agreed to donate the former Sears building at 221 S. Main St. to the Chamber and FCDC through the Chamber foundation, if the organizations agreed to pay the building’s 2012 property taxes, a commission to his Realtor and any closing costs associated with the transaction.

“It cost us approximately $30,000,” Coen said. “The county has the building valued at about $300,000, so we looked at this as a really good opportunity for both organizations.”

The two entities took possession of the building in the last week of December, Coen said.

“We cannot thank Roger Johnson enough for his magnanimous donation,” Coen said. “We are very pleased that he had that much faith in our community and in us to do something with the building that would help Ottawa prosper in the future.”

The Chamber and FCDC boards have made no decisions about what to do with the building, Coen said.

“We are going to hold onto the building as we look at all our options,” Coen said. “Both [Chamber and FCDC] boards will be in conversation about what the best use of the building will be. Everything is on the table.”

Those options might range from trying to attract a retail business to that location to moving the Chamber and FCDC offices into the building, Coen said.

"It’s much too early in the conversation to speculate what direction we might take,” Coen said. “Ultimately, our goal is to improve Main Street.”    

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