Scott seeks permission to demolish building, considers other options
The owner of the former Columbia Theater - or what's left of it - on Gallia Street, appeared before Portsmouth's Design Review Board on Monday, with an application seeking permission to demolish the property.
But then Lee Scott, who, along with his wife, Christine, own the burned-out building, said he might decide to build a brick wall across the back, roof it, and build bleachers and a stage inside.
"The city is still holding a lot of our money, and doing that is what I would have to do to get my money released," Scott said.
Then again, he said, he might decide two or three months from now to tear it down.
"It's depending on circumstances as to what we will do," he said. "If I have to fight everybody as I have in the past to build what I propose, then I want the right to take a bulldozer and tear the whole thing down. We want it so we can do whatever we decide to do, since it's our property."
The review board - consisting of Carl Daehler, Mark Harris, Matt Schackart, Jack Vetter and Kirk Donges, chairman - wound up putting off any action on the matter until at least its next monthly meeting.
Scott said he might save the ornamental facade of the building, which still stands, and put it up in his front yard.
The building, now called the Columbia Music Hall, was gutted by fire in the early morning hours of Nov. 11, 2007.
Within a week, Jeff Fulton, a special agent in charge of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Response Team, announced at a press conference at the Portsmouth Fire Department the fire was caused by arson.
"This is the beginning of a criminal investigation," Fulton said that day.
In mid-January, Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison said he definitely has a suspect in the burning of the building.
Still no charges have been filed or arrests made.
On Wednesday of last week, agents with ATF, and officers from the city fire department and police executing a search warrant, impounded Scott's Chevrolet Avalanche near Fourth and Market streets, trucked it to TST Towing Services in Portsmouth, and searched it. The vehicle was returned to Scott later in the day.
A statement issued by police said investigators had reason to believe the car was used for drug activity, a charge Scott called "ridiculous."
The statement said they found parts of a cigarette believed to be marijuana, two packs of rolling papers and a green, leafy substance believed to marijuana.
Lee Scott told board members Monday, he is in the process of filing a lawsuit charging city officials with harassment.
Outside board offices Monday, Scott said the company his wife had fire insurance with had paid off after the fire. Some money though, he said, still is being held by the city.
Before the fire, the city made Christine Scott a $190,000 loan from the city's revolving loan fund to help pay for renovating the old movie house into a music hall.
Shortly after the fire, the city hired ME Consulting of Cincinnati to judge whether the building could be salvaged for remodeling.
The building is salvageable, but the back wall was a major concern, the structural engineering firm said. Chris Payton, building official with the city's engineering department, said the back wall wasn't braced to what's left of the walls that held the roof system, and could fall down without being braced.
Scott has been busy with demolition work at the rear of the building.
The Scotts spent about five years remodeling the building. The first music shows, using mostly regional talent, took place around the first of November.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.