PORTSMOUTH – After 20 years, the long standing controversy surrounding the Marting’s Building may finally be coming to an end.
On Monday, the Portsmouth City Council voted 5-1 to approve the final reading of an ordinance transferring 515 Chillicothe Street, also known as the former Marting’s Building, to the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA). SOPA has been working with a yet unnamed developer to find an occupant for the long vacant building.
The legislation coincided with the second reading of an ordinance that would accept $1,400,000 from the Marting’s Foundation for the sole purpose of redeveloping City Hall. However, the funds came with the stipulation that they be used towards the development within one year of acceptance.
“There are inherent problems with a time limit on this transfer of money,” said Mayor and 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne. “We just finished a very unpredictable moment in history. And we have no way of knowing if external funding opportunities such as grants could come available.”
City officials have been looking for a new city hall for years. Now, they have a downtown building in their sites. According to Dunne, the cost for purchase and renovation would cost between $3-5 million dollars.
“We need to do due diligence with tax payer money…if we transfer this to SOPA, it puts us at a vulnerable spot in terms of the year stipulation. The time limit is unnecessary.”
Dunne also brought up concerns on a potential conflict of interest involving 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon. According to Dunne, a board member for the Southern Ohio Museum also sits on the board of the Marting’s Foundation. Gordon serves as Co-Executive Director of the museum.
“I don’t believe it’s a conflict of interest,” said 5th Ward Councilman Joey Sandlin. “And this is an amazing opportunity. We are moving the building to SOPA in order to transfer it to an investor. We have an interested party, a business, that has done its due diligence and is very serious about redeveloping the Marting’s building…in doing so, the funds from the Marting’s foundation would come to help us develop a city hall outside of the Marting’s building.”
“This will bring life and vitality to Chillicothe Street.”
Gordon also responded.
“I resent the insinuation that I’ve done anything unethical, rushed, or behind the scenes,” she said. “Everything I’ve done has been done above board and legally. I’ve consulted the City Solicitor many times through this process.”
Upon conferring with Solicitor Haas, Gordon agreed to abstain from the vote on the second reading of the ordinance accepting the funds from the Marting’s foundation. That vote passed 4-1. It will be up for a third and final reading at the next meeting on Monday, May 9th.
Towards the end of the meeting, Dunne asked City Manager Sutherland to request an extension of the time limit from one to two years for the city to pursue grant funding towards the city hall project.
Portsmouth City Council also announced a venue change for a Special Session scheduled for April 30 at 8:30 a.m. will now be held at the Portsmouth Little Theater located at 1115 Lawson Street Portsmouth, Ohio. The Special Session has been called by Mayor Dunne to discuss the standard of care and licensure for Rehabilitation Facilities.
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