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Published: 8/13/2008

Seneca County courthouse gets more time

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - Though they heard more promises than proof, Seneca County commissioners yesterday granted another reprieve for the county's 1884 courthouse.

Commissioner Dave Sauber told Tiffin's Architectural Board of Review he would contact the Cleveland demolition firm that submitted the lowest bid to raze the courthouse to see if it would extend its bid an additional 30 days. If so, commissioners said, that will buy enough time to consider a more "concrete" proposal for the courthouse's private redevelopment.

If the contractor doesn't agree, Mr. Sauber said he will move to sever talks with the review board, which previously denied its demolition-permit request, and appeal to Tiffin's board of zoning appeals for permission to raze the downtown landmark. Without an extension, commissioners would have to award the demolition contract by their Sept. 8 meeting.

"I will not spend another dollar to put it out to bid again," Mr. Sauber said.

He and Commissioner Ben Nutter said they had hoped to hear a more specific proposal for an adaptive reuse of the courthouse yesterday from Franklin Conaway, a preservation consultant from Chillicothe, Ohio.

Mr. Conaway, who promised to have his final report by month's end, said he has spoken with 17 individuals and organizations interested in a long-term courthouse renovation plan. He also has discussed the matter with officials of the governor's office, the Ohio Department of Development, and the Office of Budget and Management.

"I can say, based on all of the work done in the past several weeks, that as of today, I am confident the sources for the funding - approximately 70 percent of the renovation costs - have been identified," he said.

When Mr. Nutter asked what funding sources he had identified, Mr. Conaway said about 45 percent of the cost of renovating the courthouse would come in the form of tax credits. The rest, he said, would come from public funding and "quite significant" private investment funds.

Mr. Nutter questioned him repeatedly about how the county would sell the courthouse to a private investor, since state officials have told him the state legally cannot act as a bridge between the county and a private owner. The only alternative to transferring the building to a government entity, he said, would be to auction it publicly.

"I'm skeptical of the ownership issues," Mr. Nutter said. "For the past three years, they've been glossed over. I can't deal in glossiness. I have to deal in reality."

Mr. Conaway said he knew of "at least three very viable ways" to transfer courthouse ownership, but declined to elaborate. A memorandum he gave to commissioners at the meeting mentioned transferring the courthouse through agencies like the development department, the city of Tiffin, a port authority, or a nonprofit senior citizen organization.

Commissioners and the review board agreed to meet again Sept. 2.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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