The City of Marysville will need a little more convincing before it permits a century-old mortuary to be knocked down.
The building is on Court Street, next door to McCarthy & Cox. It was the former law office of William Coleman, and, later on, Tim Aslaner.
Tom McCarthy, co-owner of the property and partner at McCarthy & Cox, came before the city’s design review board Wednesday night to plead his case.
He came before the board last year for permission to tear down a garage in the back of the property. At that time, permission was granted with the understanding that the main structure would be preserved.
About a year later, McCarthy said the situation has changed. His firm had planned to expand into the existing structure. He said his business is growing, and the space they have now is no longer adequate.
According to McCarthy, he has hired two architectural firms, four general contractors and “numerous” engineers to find a way to extend the adjoining office into the building in a “cost effective and reasonable way.” He said during that process, it became apparent that the condition of the building had deteriorated greatly.
“I think a fair comment would be, ‘why did you buy this knowing this,’” he said. “The fact is, we didn’t know it.”
Among the most pressing problems is an electrical system that’s not up to code, sinkholes at the rear of the building and a south wall that is falling away from the building by about three inches. He said getting permission to demolish the building doesn’t mean he will, he just wants to get it before his firm spends any more money on architectural review and planning. He said at this point, he believes building an entirely new structure to fit his business’ needs could be more cost-effective.
However, since the building lies within the city’s historical district, it requires review from the board before it can be demolished.
According to Union County Historical Society President Bob Parrott, the building was a mortuary built around 1920-1921, and was an unusual one for the time.
It served for many years as a funeral home. Embalming was done in the basement. A garage in the back was used for storage of caskets and parking for a hearse.
“This is one of the most historic and architecturally important buildings in our downtown,” Parrott said.
With these sorts of historical demolition applications, the board must go through a three-item checklist. Is the structure historical, is restoring it cost-effective, and is it in good enough condition to save. If the answer to any of those is “no,” the board can opt to allow demolition.
McCarthy mainly argued that saving it wouldn’t be economical.
“We agree that demolition should be your last resort,” McCarthy said. “But we’re at our last resort.”
Parrott said he was disappointed, since their application a year ago promised the preservation of the main structure.
“I understand that they got into some other expenses, but the kind of promise that we had didn’t materialize,” he said.
He said restoring the electrical systems in the building would cost $60,800. Dayton Power & Light cancelled power to the building, and have told the firm they won’t restore it until the structure is back up to code. Estimates to restore and connect the structure ranged from about $600,000 to more than $800,000.
He also said that since the structure has deteriorated so much, renting it out could prove fruitless going forward.
“We think we’ve looked at every possibly alternative,” he said. “I don’t think there’s another plumber or electrician that will take at look at this. We’ve asked them all.”
Board member Brett Garrett said he wasn’t convinced building an entirely new building would be more economical than simply restoring what’s already there.
“That would surprise me that would be able to build something per code that large for less,” he said.
Board member Tim Schacht agreed, and reiterated that the process to gauge the importance of a building is tied to the character of a community rather than only financial feasibility.
“It’s a little bit more than considering the bottom line of business,” Schacht said.
Board member Scot Draughn asked Parrott whether the building’s historical value could be retained if they gutted the interior but kept the shell. Parrott said the integrity of the building could remain in the case.
“If the façade is preserved, even if they gut it on the inside to redesign and repurpose it, which is really what I thought was going to be done … we could still tell the stories of that building,” Parrott said.
The board encouraged McCarthy to explore more options with the site and return to present their findings. Draughn said if they find it’s impossible to save the structure, the board will consider letting it go.
“If you come back in and say you know guys, we explored this and we explored that, if we pull out the nail on the south-end wall from one side, then the hole thing’s going to come down like a house of cards, we’re going to have to look at Mr. Parrott and say, ‘Oh boy,’” Draughn said.
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