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Two Downtown Buildings Now Empty After Being Declared Unsafe

Brent Warren Brent Warren Two Downtown Buildings Now Empty After Being Declared UnsafePhotos by Brent Warren.
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The City of Columbus has declared two historic buildings Downtown unsafe after a fire inspection revealed a host of issues, including significant water damage, collapsed floors and crumbling interior walls.

The buildings – one is four stories tall and the other three – are located at 171 to 191 S. High St. and owned by an LLC affiliated with Plaza Properties.

Anthony Celebrezze, Assistant Director of the city’s Department of Building and Zoning Services, said that the owner has 30 days from the time of notice (May 14) to either bring the buildings into compliance, appeal the city’s determination, or perform another action “that shows that they are responding to the situation that we are seeing.”

That could include selling the building or beginning the process to demolish it, he added, a potential outcome that has the historic preservation community concerned.

Also found in the inspection was evidence of work performed without a permit, such as new cinderblock walls constructed in the basement and other efforts to shore up unsteady walls and floors.

Celebrezze added that the city has communicated with the owner, but he said he doesn’t “have a sense of what direction they’re going in.” A representative of Plaza Properties did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

The two business that have operated in recent years on the ground floor of the buildings – Moses Jewelry and a Metro PCS store – have both relocated. Celebrezze said that, given the state the buildings are in, it’s clear that the rest of the building has “not been occupied for some time.”

Signs posted on the buildings direct Moses Jewelry customers to a new location at 3606 E. Main St. in Whitehall.

Both buildings passed visual inspections of the exterior performed by the city in 2011 and 2015, indicating that the facade remained in good condition and that there was no danger of any part of it crumbling or breaking off.

“It is incredibly disappointing when historic properties are allowed to deteriorate like these two significant commercial buildings and the neighboring Ohio National Bank Building, that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (and is also owned by Plaza Properties),” said Becky West, Executive Director of Columbus Landmarks.

“Ongoing building maintenance is a basic responsibility of property ownership,” she added. “We urge immediate stabilization and remedy of these buildings by the owner.”

The trio of Plaza Properties-owned buildings on South High Street were featured in a 2016 article on Columbus Underground that highlighted several vacant historic buildings Downtown facing an uncertain future despite a strong market for renovated office and residential space.

Apart from their advocacy efforts for these specific buildings, West said that a legislative fix may be necessary to protect historic properties throughout the city facing a similar fate.

“We believe Columbus needs an ordinance to safeguard against demolition by neglect so that the tactic is not employed for development purposes,” she said.

Signs have been posted on the storefronts of the two buildings.
The Ohio National Bank Building, at the corner of West Town Street, is also owned by Plaza Properties. It was not one of the buildings recently declared unsafe by the city, but has been vacant for years.

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