Local business leaders mull city building options

January 26, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Wednesday morning President of Portsmouth City Council Steve Sturgill, Portsmouth businessman Andy Glockner and Portsmouth Daily Times General Manager Michael Messerly toured the former St. Mary’s School building at Fourth and Market Streets in Portsmouth.

The purpose of the tour was, according to Messerly, to begin a dialogue about moving forward and considering existing structures for future locations for Portsmouth City operations. A need to move out of the current facility on Second Street has existed for several years, yet the city has not made serious efforts to find another location for the Municipal operation of the city.

Is the St. Mary’s School Building the best place for some of the city’s operations?

“I don’t know that it is an answer, but I’m at least suggesting a solution,” said Messerly, who took part in the tour as a citizen of the city only. “If someone has a better idea or location for city offices, then people can step up and I’ll support whatever moves the city forward. However, we’ve got to stop discussions and start taking action because all the talk hasn’t got us anywhere for the last five, 10, 20 years.”

A tour of the building revealed the need for things such as a new roof, the instability of handicap accessibility facilities, and the possible upgrade of the heating and cooling system, which means the city would have to invest in those things.

“The city doesn’t have the money to build new or rehab the existing building. However, I’ve heard from a number of local business leaders that the property where the city building sits might have significant value,” Messerly said. “Therefore the city needs to get out of the way. Development of that property can spark other economic development.”

At least one local developer is waiting for the city building property to become available.

“Sure, I believe it has value. I’d like to buy it,” Portsmouth developer Jeff Albrecht said. “I think the site is a great site, and would be perfect for some first floor retail and then condominiums.”

Albrecht said one of the questions developers would ask about the current city building is how much asbestos is still on the premises and how much it would cost to raze it.

“To determine what the value would be, it wouldn’t be sold as with the building on it. The value would be raw land,” Albrecht said. “I think the way to figure out what the value of that property would be, would be to see what (real estate agent and developer) Neal (Hatcher), and the (Shawnee State) University, and other people in the area are paying per square foot for land and then multiply that by the number of square feet involved, and then deduct the cost to get rid of the asbestos and to tear the building down - and that would be the price that it would be worth.”

Albrecht sees a demand for downtown amenities.

“I feel like there’s a real demand in our community for nice condominiums for people who would like to live downtown,” Albrecht said. “And that (city building) site is ideal for that situation for myself or anyone else who might want to develop it.”

Messerly said he believes the next step should be taken by the public.

“The citizens and local private sector need to take this issue to the council and demand action,” Messerly said. “The council needs to set deadlines for getting this done. Deadlines exist to get results. The end of this year should be a deadline for plans to move out of the city building. By the end of 2014, the city should plan on being out of the building and the property available for development.”

In 2012, City Council appointed a city building search committee. The finding by the committee called for the city to raze the existing building on the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Chillicothe Street (former Marting’s building) and request the Marting’s Foundation pay for the razing of the building.

The proposal also called for the demolition of the building directly west of that location on the south side of Sixth Street (former Babcock building) for parking. It went on to recommend the razing of the former Adelphia building (which the city also owns) at the corner of Ninth Street and Washington Street and using that property to construct a city Justice Center.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or flewis@civitasmedia.com.