By JOY BROWN
A state historic preservation tax credit worth $325,000 has been awarded to two downtown Findlay building renovation projects near the Hancock County Courthouse.
FD Main Street, a private development group comprised of community business and investment leaders, is undertaking the renovation work, estimated at $2.4 million, at the former Knights of Columbus and Davis buildings located at 316 Dorney Plaza, and 320 and 322 S. Main St.
Planned for those spaces are luxury townhouses and restored storefronts for commercial office space that will showcase original brick walls, high ceilings and other architectural features native to the buildings’ designs.
Both buildings were constructed in the mid- to late 1800s. According to state Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, who spoke at Tuesday’s announcement of the tax credit, the Davis Building was the first framed building constructed in the city.
In recent years, the two buildings were owned by Hancock County. The buildings flooded in 2007, prompting the commissioners to relocate offices and seriously consider demolishing them. In a 2-1 vote, influenced by arguments about historic preservation and razing costs, the commissioners instead sold the buildings to FD Main Street.
“Some had said they (buildings) were beyond salvaging,” Commissioner Brian Robertson said.
Mike Mallett, whose Black Pearl Builders construction company has been contracted for the renovation work, said work began last fall but was halted until investors heard from the state about the competitive tax credit. In the interim, crews were able to preserve the structures by re-roofing and installing weather sealing, he said.
The partnership was also able to renovate quickly enough to move RCM Architects into the front of 322 S. Main St. last October.
The tax credit is the only one awarded to a northwestern Ohio project during this grant cycle, which awarded $37.7 million in credits throughout the state.
Restructuring of the Ohio Development Services Agency in 2011 has improved tax credit opportunities for projects, like those in Findlay, that are smaller in scope and in smaller communities, agency Director David Goodman said. The Jones Mansion on Sandusky Street was awarded a $125,000 historic preservation tax credit in 2013, which it leveraged with additional federal tax credits for extensive restoration work.
“These tax credits are very important, because when you start getting into these older buildings, and you’re bringing them up to the building codes of today, and you’re trying to achieve improved energy efficiency, and maintain historic integrity, it becomes a very, very expensive proposal,” said Tony Iriti, economic development director for the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance. “In most cases, the difference between preservation or demolition is historic tax credits.”
The fact that the city’s Main Street, from Center Street to Lima Avenue, became a state-designated historic district years ago has helped with building preservation and tax credit acquisition, Iriti said.
Also instrumental have been visionaries such as Riad Yammine, developer Jim Heck, and other businessmen and women who have been willing to invest in the downtown on projects such as this and the renovated Rawson Building on Main Street, Iriti said.
“If you have the financial ability to rehab something, I think generally people would rather do that” than tear it down, Goodman said. “Oftentimes the tipping point is tax credits.”
The idea isn’t simply to save old buildings and prevent holes in the neighborhood footprint, but to spur more development and improvements to surrounding places, too, many downtown stakeholders said Tuesday.
For instance, Mallett said FD Main Street is hoping local funds can be acquired to spruce up Dorney Plaza, where the landscaping and infrastructure is looking aged.
“Downtown Findlay is in a great spot right now and it’s improving every day thanks to the private sector,” Mayor Lydia Mihalik said.
With the tax credit, Mallet said construction is expected to resume within 30 days. An “aggressive” timeline calls for end-of-year completion, he said.
Heck, who has been overseeing these projects, was not present for Tuesday’s event.