Following a public hearing Wednesday, the Ottawa City Commission voted to override a decision by the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) that ruled against an application to remodel a building located at 401 S. Main St.
Josh Walker, owner of Halloren Building LLC. which owns the project, petitioned the city to reverse the decision of SHPO and allow him to start the rehabilitation of the downtown building. He spoke to the commission Wednesday morning about the reasons for his petition.
“Certainly we made a lot of effort in the design of the renovation to either bring back some historical elements or preserve what is there,” he said. “In some cases there isn’t a prudent or reasonable alternative.”
SHPO’s decision to reject the initial application based on two criteria. A letter sent by SHPO stated. “Although the existing appearance is not the original one, it was completed in 1955, which is within the period of significance for the historic district. It retains a high degree of integrity from the period of renovation, which reflects the evolution of the building’s role in the economy of downtown Ottawa.”
The second opinion stated that the renovation will change the appearance of the 1955 storefront and give the building a new appearance that never existed historically.
Walker told the commission the building was built in 1923 and originally there was a parking garage on the upper level. At one point, he said, there was a grocery store on the lower level and in the 1950s it was remodeled.
“The intent is to preserve what we can, mimic what we can and provide a much improved building and asset for downtown,” he said. “That was important to us to the extent that I named the entity the owns the building after the man that built it in the first place. One of benefits of an investment like this for a historic building is that it continues to be used. That ensures that it will be salvaged and not fall into disrepair. But I would add that my hope is that this sparks continued investment in the downtown area so that other historic buildings that contribute to the district will be improved and continued to be used.”
Walker told the commission the project’s budget is $3.5 million for restoration of both floors.
At Monday’s study session, Ottawa Community Development Director Wynndee Lee, agreed with Walker’s assessment.
“Speaking for staff, we would rather a building be fully utilized and as you recall, this is not only the first floor utilization, but the second floor,” she said. “Than have one remain completely vacant. We don’t feel that is a contributing building to our downtown.”
Diana Staresinic-Deane, executive director of the Franklin County Historical Society, also spoke in favor of the project. She detailed the building’s history and presented historical photos of the building.
“Part of its story is that it’s constantly changing,” she said. “I appreciate the State Historic Preservation Office’s concern but I think its worth noting that this building has experienced numerous transitions during it’s almost 100 years, yet it manages to maintain its presence.”
John Coen, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO, believed the project would benefit the downtown in multiple ways.
“I think the way the restoration has been suggested does a great job of respecting the historical integrity of our downtown, while it continues to evolve to be an important part of the economic importance of our downtown,” he said. “I will definitely bring more people to the 400 block and more people to the downtown area.”
According to Lee, the notes from the meeting and the commission’s decision to override the recommendations from the state will be sent to SHPO for review. She said the state will have five days to respond and can accept the city’s decision or file a case to prevent it from moving forward pending a court decision.