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Chillicothe Gazette: Can the Carlisle be saved?

Matthew Kent, Chillicothe Gazette – April 21, 2013:

City Councilman Dustin Proehl still remembers that childhood feeling of walking by the Carlisle Building and seeing it as a castle of sorts.

Ten years after a major fire ravaged the structure and ignited a debate about its future, he still thinks it can be restored, despite his frustration about the lack of progress in doing so.

“I think it would benefit not only the Carlisle, but other businesses in the area,” Proehl said of restoring the structure that was erected in 1885. “I want to see them restore it because it is such an iconic building to the downtown. We have a lot of nice old buildings in the downtown, but it’s so unique in its design and so uniquely Chillicothe that it would be nice to see it rebuilt.”

Proehl, who grew up in Chillicothe, said he eventually would like to see retail stores on the first floor. He also hopes the city will move forward with putting in angular parking, an idea he once pitched that wasn’t well-received by council
members in the past.

Breathing some sort of new life into that corner of Paint and Main would be helpful, said Brien Corwin, who said he thinks the unoccupied building has had a negative effect on downtown businesses in recent years. Corwin, a manager at Frank’s Pawn Shop near the Carlisle Building, said he supports tearing down the historic structure, but stressed that if some type of development of the building was to occur, it would be a positive move.

“We only want what’s best for the downtown area,” Corwin said. “Anything in there is better than nothing.”

The Carlisle has sat empty since the April 25, 2003, fire that caused damage originally in excess of $600,000. Two teenagers, Dustin Cousins and Chance Copp, were arrested in June that year for illegally entering the building and
setting the fire. The pair ultimately admitted to charges of arson and breaking and entering in Ross County Juvenile Court and were sentenced to probation for their roles.

Since then, a parade of starts and stops, promises and disappointments, have marked efforts to restore the building to its previous grandeur. In December 2003, KG&R Development Corp. bought the building for $80,000 under the
Carlisle LLC entity and promised $2.4 million in upgrades would begin the next spring.

A ceremony was conducted about a year later to mark the start of renovations after six weeks of preparation by the organization, but work stopped on the project in August 2005 because of an inability to line up future tenants for the
structure. Five months later, with work having stopped, city officials filed a failure to comply complaint against the developer because of code violations.

Another group, Carlisle Tower LLC, bought the building in 2007, but that entity also eventually faced property code violations and was fined $1,200 fine in 2010 after being taken to court by the city.

That same year, a downtown economic revitalization study conducted by the HyettPalma firm concluded the Carlisle Building was of utmost importance to a thriving downtown — because of its location, its architectural significance and
its unique symbolic role. The study envisioned retail shops and eateries on the first floor, apartments and professional offices on its upper floors and some use as city offices or by the city’s municipal court, as well. It concluded that returning the building to local control in pursuit of investors was the best approach to get restoration efforts under way.

In August 2009, city officials decided to move forward with placing a 0.1 percent income tax levy on the ballot to buy the Carlisle Building, but 76 percent of voters rejected the proposal.

Enter The Chesler Group, a Cleveland-based firm that works on historic properties, which has taken the lead on the latest efforts concerning the Carlisle, with the firm partnering with Adena Health System in an attempt to rehabilitate
the 35,000-square-foot structure for hospital use involving nonclinical functions. A retail pharmacy, office space, housing for medical students and staff, along with creation of a community room, are part of the proposed 6.5 million plan, hospital officials said.

Adena Health System President and CEO Mark Shuter said in a statement Friday that Adena Health System “remains committed to working toward the viability of the project to rehabilitate the Carlisle Building into valuable office space
and living quarters for our medical residents.”

“Caring for our community goes beyond the mission of health care,” Shuter said. “Details continue to be discussed but we remain enthusiastic about working in partnership with others to restore the vitality of our city’s core by bringing
progress and economic development to our city.”

The partnership received a boost in December 2012 after The Chesler Group received a $1.4 million tax credit from the Ohio Development Services Agency. The Chillicothe-Ross Community Foundation also has stepped up and is
expected to be involved in the renovation through an investment. Scott Graham, executive director of the foundation, has declined to comment on the Carlisle project.

Michael Chesler, who serves as president and CEO of The Chesler Group, told the Gazette earlier in the week that he likely would be able to provide some updated information Friday on the most recent progress on the project. However, the Gazette was unable to reach him by phone Friday, and numerous messages left on his cellphone were not returned as of press time.

The city itself had been part of the original discussion with Chesler and Adena involving the possibility of a portion of the building being used to house city offices. Mayor Jack Everson pulled the city out of the possible partnership this
past August, however, citing budgetary concerns and the upward of $2 million in costs the city would have faced if it moved forward. City council members never officially voted on the partnership possibility, but the initial idea to become involved in the partnership was something Everson had hoped to persuade council to pursue.

Everson, who was at home with his wife at the time of the fire, said “a fully restored Carlisle Building is the best answer” and that moving forward with Chesler’s plan is the “absolute best option on the table” at the present time.

“I’m 100 percent behind it,” Everson said Friday.

If the deal between Adena and Chesler falls through, Everson said he isn’t aware of any alternatives and expressed concern about the building being able to hold its own weight while waiting for someone else to come in and take it

He said the city likely wouldn’t take that chance if public safety was at risk. Demolishing the building would cost the city anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million, said Everson, adding that without the Carlisle, “there would be a
definite hole in the landscape.”

“It would really be a shame to the city of Chillicothe aesthetically and financially,” he said.

Sue Troester, of the Chillicothe Restoration Foundation, owned the building from 1991 to 1996 with her husband, and said that although some “bumps in the road” have occurred, she wants to see something happen, adding that the building still has a great deal of potential.

“It’s a wonderful building,” she said. “It is not the pitfall it’s made out to be.”

If the landmark is torn down, “it would leave a terrible gap, and there’s nothing that could add to the downtown,” she said.

“The city needs its history. We can’t destroy our own roots,” Troester said. “People need to value these things and they can be made useful.”