Thursday event to show off Ohio Casualty building’s future

The public will get an extended peek at the potential future of the former Ohio Casualty complex during Thursday’s Hamilton State of the City event.
Justin Lichter, vice president of Industrial Realty Group LLC, which owns the former insurance complex, said this should help potential tenants envision their future in the buildings at 131 and 136 N. Third St.

“When you walk in now, unless you have a vision or a rendering, it’s really hard to see how it could look,” Lichter said.
Gone from the areas that will be on display during Thursday’s 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. event are the 1970s-era interiors, replaced by spaces updated to today’s preferred work spaces, with natural light and modern furnishings in about 5,000 square feet of office space, a redone lobby and a conference room.
“They are going to be showing a piece of the building that’s a view into the future of how it could look with individual office spaces leased out, which is the direction I believe they’re going,” said Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting the event.
“This is the first time people will be able to get through there in close to 10 years, I think it’s been seven or eight at least,” Bates said.
The discussion comes at a time Hamilton is experiencing a downtown rebirth, with plans to spark its development further. City officials hope next month to sign a development agreement to create Spooky Nook at Champion Mill, a gigantic indoor sports complex, similar to a sister complex in Pennsylvania that had 1.1 million visitors last year.
Descriptions of the city’s recent successes as well as its future plans will be presented by City Manager Joshua Smith and Mayor Pat Moeller during the event.

Smith said he plans during his speech to highlight author Jim Collins’ concept of “preserve the core and stimulate progress.”

Smith also will highlight the way Hamilton’s strength resides in its volunteers, partnerships, civic leaders and small businesses, he said.

Grants requested for repairing 4 downtown buildings in Mattoon

The City Council is scheduled tonight to consider allocating tax increment financing (TIF) grants for repairs to four buildings in downtown Mattoon.

The grants would be allocated from the city’s Midtown TIF revenues. The city uses part of the tax revenues generated by property development within the TIF district downtown to fund private building repair grants and public improvements within this district.

A TIF grant of up to $70,000 would be allocated to property owners Jeff and Tina Prior of Mattoon to help pay for wheelchair accessibility, building and electrical code compliance, and façade improvements to the building at 1630 Broadway Ave.

City Administrator Kyle Gill said the Priors plan to open a spa business at 1630 Broadway, a vacant office space that is located between the Jack & Bill’s Clothing and the State Beauty Supply buildings.

A TIF grant of up to $40,000 would be allocated to Novinger, L.L.C. to help pay for façade improvements to the building at 117 S. 19th St. Gill said this work is part of upgrades to the K.C. Summers automotive dealership building at the northwest corner of Charleston Avenue and 19th Street.

In a related matter, the council also will consider approving the K C Summers Auto Group’s petition for a sign ordinance variance to allow a 32-foot-tall sign to be erected at the K.C. Summers Hyundai building, 117 S. 19th St. Gill said the auto group has reported that this height is needed for the sign to be visible above nearby structures. The sign ordinance limits such signs to 25 feet tall.

Separately, a TIF grant of up to $38,079 would be allocated to Jasper Holdings, L.L.C. to help pay for wheelchair accessibility, building and electrical code compliance, and façade improvements to the building at 1819 Broadway Ave.

Gill said the storefront at 1819 Broadway is being renovated so that Mattoon Flower Shop can relocate to there from the shop’s current location at 505 S. 23rd St., on the southwest side of town.

Separately, a TIF grant of up to $34,845 would be awarded to Jarrick and Francisca Honn to help pay for roof repairs, masonry repairs, and façade improvements to the building at 1622 Broadway Ave, which is home to The War Zone game store. The War Zone page on Facebook reports the that Honns purchased this business and building from Dave and Christy Easton this spring.

The council is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. tonight following a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Abbott EMS’ appeal to be certified as an ambulance service provider in Mattoon. Other actions that the council will consider taking during the meeting include:

Accepting the second and final settlement payment of $32,000 from Pierce Manufacturing, Inc. for repairs to a fire truck that was damaged by corrosion and rust. City Administrator Gill said the first payment was $40,000.
Paying $10,000 to the Upchurch Group of Mattoon for material testing services for the ongoing resurfacing of Marshall Avenue between Ninth and 14th streets.

City issues raze-or-repair order for Monterey Hotel, other downtown building

Janesville’s Monterey Hotel could be slated for demolition based on a raze-or-repair order the city issued for the iconic building last week.

A raze-or-repair order gives a building owner 30 days to develop a plan that would bring the property up to code. Once a plan is in place, the city sets another deadline for the repairs or demolition to be finalized, Building Director Tom Clippert said Monday.

City officials issued the order for the hotel Sept. 10. The city issued the same order Aug. 15 for a building at 13 N. Main St.

Officials have not heard from Bruce Monson, who owns the property on Main Street. He will be notified that the city will begin a bidding process for a contractor to raze that building, although the timeline for its demolition is uncertain, Clippert said.

Monson would be responsible for that cost. He declined to comment when reached by The Gazette.
“13 North Main is basically a shell of a building that is unsafe and in a condition that is a life safety issue. If there were ever an incident and the fire department had to go in, it would be a safety issue,” Clippert said. “With Monterey, it’s similar. That property has deteriorated to the point we consider it a nuisance property and a safety issue.”

The hotel has sat empty for more than 25 years. Clippert wasn’t sure how long the other building has been vacant, but it was unoccupied when he started in his current job more than three years ago, he said.

Jim Grafft, the owner of the Monterey Hotel, does not have to develop a plan to find a tenant. But he needs to have plans to fix the building before his 30-day compliance window ends Oct. 10.

Grafft has owned the hotel on the corner of West Milwaukee and South High streets for about two decades. He has long said he wants to redevelop the building into apartments.

But he has clashed with the city over on-site parking and has said he needs city incentives to build a parking deck, as previously reported by The Gazette.

Multiple attempts to reach Grafft on Monday were unsuccessful.

Clippert said it’s frustrating to see no progress on the hotel. Janesville has worked with the owners of both buildings for years to get them up to code, but that hasn’t happened.

The buildings have fallen into such disrepair that the only remaining option is to issue raze-or-repair orders. The problems have gone beyond cosmetic and are now structural, he said.

Janesville has not previously issued raze-or-repair orders for either of the buildings, but it has issued letters to both property owners asking them to make smaller repairs. Failing to act on those can lead to a raze-or-repair order, Clippert said.

Copies of both buildings’ raze-or-repair orders provided by the city include a list of ordinance and building code violations. The orders are mostly general and include directives for structural and cosmetic improvements inside and outside the buildings.

The orders do not estimate how much repairs or demolition could cost at either property.

The raze-or-repair order for 13 N. Main St. came not from an inspection but after observations over the past three years.

At the hotel, city officials are requiring Grafft to remove debris from stairways and hallways on all floors. The raze-or-repair order also mentions bricks falling off some areas of the building.

Clippert shared a code violation letter sent to the hotel in January that said the building was “likely to partially or completely collapse” because of dilapidation. Grafft had until June 30 to submit a report stating the building was structurally sound.

That didn’t happen, and city officials had many internal discussions before they opted to issue the raze-or-repair order, he said.

Clippert also shared a 2015 violation letter citing problems he said still remain.

The 2015 letter asked Grafft to remove trash and debris from stairways so cellphone technicians could safely access an antenna on top of the building. It also mentions a leaky roof and broken or open windows that prevent the structure from being weather-tight.

It hasn’t been difficult for vandals to get inside the old hotel.

A cellphone technician there last week for tower maintenance reported graffiti that included a threat to bomb the Rock County Courthouse on Aug. 10. It was likely written sometime after June 21 and was not found until more than a month after the bomb threat date, according to a Janesville police report.

Nobody bombed the courthouse last month.

Despite the hotel’s problems, Clippert believes there’s a chance it can be preserved.

Not your typical condo building around Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle is well known for its cultural institutions and classic rowhouses, for its shopping, dining and nightlife. And Bruce Packett, among many others, considers the centrally located Northwest Washington neighborhood a highly desirable place to live.

“I’ve worked in D.C. since the 1990s and lived in the city for more than a decade, and Dupont Circle has always been one of my favorite neighborhoods,” said Packett,who recently bought a condo unit at the James, a new building at 1761 P St. NW, with his wife, Holly Packett.

The Packetts, who have been renting an apartment about a mile away in Adams Morgan, have a 1-year-old daughter, Freya, and a big part of what drew them to Dupont Circle was a nearby elementary school.

“We’ve been working with a real estate agent to find a two-bedroom place that fit into our budget, that’s located in the Ross Elementary school district,” Packett said. “We’re committed to the city and want to send our daughter to public school. That elementary school is highly rated