The Delaware Historic Preservation Commission discussed a concept review of a proposed City of Delaware Welcome Center at Wednesday’s meeting. Under the proposal, the Sheets Building at 20 E. William St. in downtown Delaware would be razed to clear the way for the welcome center.
The building, which is more than 130 years old, is not included on the National Register of Historic Places, and it lies outside the Sandusky Street Historic District.
As the concept is currently presented, the welcome center would add an additional 11 parking spots on the site, increasing the total to 31. In addition to the increased parking, public restrooms, a digital interactive wayfinding map, an arch similar to the Bun’s arch, and a walking path between the welcome center and the City Hall and City Hall Annex buildings are also included.
Assistant City Manager Jackie Walker said the block where the welcome center would be constructed is “really taking off” with the reconstruction of the former Gazette building, which is currently being renovated to become both additional office space for the city and a community working space.
“With the addition of COhatch and moving the Planning Department over to 18 E. William St., we are anticipating that we are going to need additional public parking spaces, both during the day, evenings and weekends. By turning that property into a welcome center, we could increase the number of parking spaces that are there.”
She added, “Because we are going to have more parking spaces there, we are able to create a safer driveway to get in and out of those parking spaces. Anybody that has ever parked back there knows you take your life into your hands pulling in and especially pulling out of there. The sidewalks are right on top of you. You can’t really see out into the street because of the cars parked there.”
Walker said that after the first of the year, the city would use a “citizen engagement tool” to ask citizens what features they would like to see out of a potential welcome center.
In September of last year, the city had proposed to demolish the building in order to “improve access to the (city) annex and garner additional parking spaces,” documents state. The proposal was tabled by HPC and ultimately withdrawn by the city after the plan was met with opposition from both HPC and residents.
Following the withdrawal, the city hired an appraisal company to assess the value of the Sheets Building. According to the documents submitted to HPC earlier this month and ahead of Wednesday’s conceptual review, “Staff determined that it would be of little benefit to the citizens of Delaware to rent or renovate the building.”
The document added that the building would require upwards of $200,000 in repairs to make it useful again, and any repurposing would only create an additional need for downtown parking, which is already a top concern for the city.
HPC member Joe Coleman said, “The bottom line, to me, is there are a finite number of historically significant buildings that essentially make downtown Delaware what it is. (The Sheets Building) is one of them.”
Coleman pointed out many buildings have already been razed, including the former Rutherford B. Hayes home to make way for the BP gas station on William Street, and he said many business owners in the downtown core would like to knock buildings down to make way for parking lots, “but that’s not the purpose of a historic district.”
Walked clarified the proposal was more than just a parking lot, pointing out public restrooms are something the city hears about often from residents.
HPC Chairman Mark Hatten failed to see how this proposal is any different than what was ultimately withdrawn last year.
“To me, you’ve just kind of polished this up a little bit, put some lipstick on it, called it something else, and brought it back in front of us,” Hatten said.
Hatten went on to say tearing down the building would eliminate the possibility of potential income from the location if it were to be redeveloped into some type of business.
HPC member Stephanie VanGundy, a real estate agent, stated she could “see a lot of interest in the building,” saying a lot of residents are looking for downtown investments.
The building has sat vacant for more than three years now, last being used as city office space in 2015.
Because the meeting was simply a conceptual review of the proposal, meant to garner feedback and discussion, there were no votes on the plan.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.