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Published: Wednesday, 10/28/2009

Banker in Tiffin to lead fund drive for courthouse

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - A local banker involved in fund-raising for the United Way, the chamber of commerce, and Tiffin City Schools has agreed to chair a capital campaign to raise money to restore Seneca County's historic 1884 courthouse.

Shirley A. Smith, vice president and branch manager of National City Bank in Tiffin, will chair the campaign, Franklin Conaway, who heads the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group, told county commissioners yesterday.

Ms. Smith, who did not attend the meeting, said afterward that raising $1.45 million toward the nearly $8 million renovation project will be a challenge, but she's ready to step up and help make it happen.

"I just think it's worth it, and I think the community will totally benefit from it when it's all done," Ms. Smith said.

A native of Tiffin and a school board member, Ms. Smith said she has long been interested in the courthouse, even as a young girl.

"I always thought it was this very interesting building that basically is in the center of our town," she said. "I know it's been such a hot issue, but I can see that renovating this courthouse will lead to tremendous economic situations for the downtown and the Tiffin area."

While commissioners have pledged their support of a plan proposed by Mr. Conaway's group to restore the vacant courthouse, the project depends largely on the county's ability to pay for it.

The redevelopment group has pledged to raise at least $1.45 million to pay for the more ornamental portions of the project - restoring the clock tower and other architectural elements. In addition to the private and corporate contributions that will be sought through the capital campaign, the group plans to apply for grants to help raise its share, including grants from the Kresge Foundation and the federal Save Our Treasures program.

The group also is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a low-interest loan program the commissioners could use to finance the county's $5 million share of the project.

Jim Seney, a group member and former Sylvania mayor who worked for the Ohio Department of Development, told commissioners it's important for the loan application to be submitted by the end of the year to be considered in the next funding cycle. He said the county can apply for a $5 million loan but would not be obligated to use any or all of it.

"You're not deciding which financing scheme you're going to do at this point," Mr. Seney said. "You don't have to decide until you're ready to actually execute construction agreements, but you want to keep all your options open and you want to get your place in line established."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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