Steve Coon, president of an Ohio-based restoration company, recently begged officials during a recent public meeting to not tear down the West Shoreline Drive structure as planned.
Coon guaranteed he could obtain state historic tax credits to transform the blighted building into a 48-unit apartment complex — a project valued at $12 million to $14 million.
He also vowed to immediately fix any safety concerns the property poses today.
But the dream proposal came a tad too late.
In October, city commissioners signed a contract with an Independence-based excavating company to demolish the Keller Building.
The $448,500 binding deal includes workers removing asbestos so they can eventually tear down the building sometime in 2014.
At a glance
• Sandusky city commissioners rejected a proposal from a private developer to save the Keller Building and transform the structure into apartments.
• City officials already signed a contract to demolish the blighted building sometime in 2014.
• Officials feared a lawsuit or some other financial fallout would result from breaching the demolition contract.
Sandusky law director Don Icsman urged commissioners to not breach the demolition contract, fearing it would either create a lawsuit or some other financial fallout.
“We’re not in the eleventh hour,” Icsman said. “It’s about 3 o’clock, and we have a contract. We’re in the middle of a contract. What’s the financial consequences of stopping that contract?”
Commissioner-elect Dennis Murray Jr. appreciated Coon’s gesture to spur economic development in Sandusky but raised numerous concerns with his proposal.
Among the red flags: Coon wanted $400,000 in city funds plus ownership of the building. Sandusky owns the Keller Building property.
“This public is ready for this building to come down,” Murray said. “But I think the public would be supportive of giving you the shot that you asked for if and only if you make us whole”
Murray, a partner in the Sandusky-based Murray & Murray law firm, wanted Coon to:
• Pay for any extra costs Sandusky would incur if it breached the demolition contract.
• Tear down the building at his expense if the revitalization project fails.
• Ensure progress on the Keller Building — be it demolition or revitalization — occurs one year from now.
Coon couldn’t agree to those stipulations, so Murray didn’t agree to his deal.
“You will not sign the contract that I would require and the terms I agree,” Murray said. “It’s just too late at this point”
Commissioner-elect Naomi Twine echoed statements made by Murray and Icsman.
“The more Mr. Icsman talks, the more I get a pit in my stomach,” Twine said. “This is not right for the community. We already made a decision”
Commissioner Pervis Brown, serving his final city meeting because of term limits, insisted his fellow board members follow the demolition contract commissioners signed together.
“We as a commission made a decision, and we hired people in a contract we have,” Brown said. “We have to honor that or our name is mud. We can’t be a city that enters into something and then halfway into it change our minds”
Commissioner Julie Farrar liked Coon’s plan, but the gamble — when accounting for a possible lawsuit and other related costs — seems to risky right now.
“I keep hearing ‘cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching,’” Farrar said. “It’s too late right now. There are too many ‘what ifs.’ I can’t in good conscious move forward with this”
No official vote occurred on Dec. 23.
Rather, based on commissioners verbally scrutinizing Coon’s proposal, it’s likely the Keller Building will be brought down in 2014.
Coon seemed disheartened by his proposal getting slammed.
“These projects die seven or eight deaths before they come to light” said Coon, who’s done similar projects with blighted properties in numerous cities. “It would be a shame for that building to come down”
The Keller Building’s demolition cost and related environmental work is estimated at $550,000.