WAUSEON - Half a city block across Fulton Street from Cathy Buehrer's florist and gift shop has been a vacant lot since a fire destroyed several downtown businesses two years ago.
But after several false starts, at least part of the site is on the verge of redevelopment after City Council approved an agreement with a local man who owned a restaurant where the fire started.
The agreement council approved yesterday with Wauseon Downtown Development Co., LLC., calls for construction of a 10,472-square-foot building housing a restaurant with retail space to the rear at Front and Elm streets. A state grant will cover $500,000 of the building's estimated $700,000 cost.
"It will be a great thing if a building gets built," Mrs. Buehrer, owner of Designs by Cameron's, said after council's 5-0 vote.
"For businesses, it's a great thing that it's happening," said Mark Matheny, Mrs. Buehrer's store manager. "It's nice to see businesses coming back to downtown."
No groundbreaking date was set, however, and a letter dated May 11 and co-signed by Mayor Jerry Dehnbostel and developer Charles Bryan, sets an official completion date of July 31, just 11 weeks away, to comply with the state grant's expiration.
Neither Mr. Bryan nor his wife,
Jennifer, who together are to be sole members of the development company, attended the meeting yesterday, and Mr. Bryan did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
A second phase of the project, comprising more retail shops, is proposed to be built after the first phase's completion, although Mayor Dehnbostel acknowledged to council that, under a "worst-case scenario," that later phase would not be buiilt.
WDDC plans to use the first phase as collateral for bank loans to build the second phase entirely with its own funds, the mayor said.
The development agreement requires the developer to place $100,000 in an escrow account from which funds will be payable only with a co-signature from Wauseon's finance director. Businesses employing about 50 people were destroyed in the April 14, 2007, fire that investigators later said was intentionally set inside Doc Holliday's restaurant.
Some of those businesses have since reopened elsewhere in Wauseon, while the arson investigation remains open but with no arrests made so far.
"It's just been such a long time coming, and there have been so many roadblocks," Mayor Dehnbostel said. "I'll be glad to see construction start."
"It's time to get downtown rebuilt," City Council President Doug Shaw said, "and put some life back in downtown."
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