Delaware City Council members told county officials last week they want more information before they vote for or against demolition of a historic downtown building.
Delaware County has asked council to overturn the Delaware Historic Preservation Commission's decision to block demolition of the Elks building, 110 N. Sandusky St. The vacant Italianate structure was built in 1880 by Dr. Ralph Hills, one of the founders of Ohio Wesleyan Female College and Oak Grove Cemetery.
County Administrator Tim Hansley told council the county is eyeing the site for a courthouse expansion. If the demolition is denied, he said the county would look for a new site, possibly outside city limits.
Hansley said there was "absolutely no implied threat" from the county, but noted it would be difficult to build a new courthouse facility with adequate parking on the Elks site if the building remains. He said county commissioners would commit to building the courthouse on the site if the structure is demolished.
Multiple council members said at their meeting Monday, June 23, that they thought the county was asking them to pick the lesser of two evils.
Councilwoman Lisa Keller said the county needed to "explore every option" before opting for demolition, noting the county knew the building was in a historic district when it purchased the site in 2006.
"I feel like the only choice I'm given is damage the downtown or damage the downtown," she said. "There's got to be a third option."
A small group of city residents spoke before council and asked them to prevent the demolition.
Marian Vance, Delaware resident and board president of the nonprofit Preservation Ohio, said a skilled architect could work the existing structure into the design for a new courthouse.
"Delaware's new design could be an award-winner, or Delaware could be known as a tear-down town," she said. "Let's not choose the latter."
Roxanne Amidon said the city's previous efforts to revitalize its downtown proved historic buildings do not need to be sacrificed in order to attract businesses and visitors.
"People flock here from neighboring communities because of the revitalization of our downtown," she said.
Councilman Kent Shafer said he would approve of the building's demolition only if it was the county's only option.
"I guess what I would ask would be to take another look at trying to find a way to incorporate this building into (the courthouse site)," he said. "Clearly the people of Delaware want to preserve this building, and I do, too."
Shafer said he would like to see the county come back with some cost estimates for plans to reuse the structure as well as estimates for tearing it down and starting from scratch.
According to city guidelines, to approve the demolition, City Council must determine either the building is not historic, or it would not be economically viable for the county to renovate it.
Vice Mayor George Hellinger, a former Elks member, said he remembered the condition of the building when the county bought it.
He said he would not vote to approve the demolition on the grounds that it has deteriorated, as he thinks the county is responsible for any damage that has occurred in the last eight years.
"My counterpoint back to you is, maybe you should have taken better care of the facility," he said.
Councilman Chris Jones said he was concerned that if the new courthouse was built outside of the city's downtown, other businesses would follow it.
"I reached out to a couple of well-known (downtown law firms) ... and got their feedback on it," he said. "They expressed to me that they would absolutely move their businesses out of the city of Delaware to be closer to wherever the courthouse is built."
Council is expected to discuss the building again at its next meeting, set for 7 p.m. July 14 at City Hall, 1 S. Sandusky St.
Keller said it was appropriate for council to take its time and gather more information before coming to a final decision.
"Once this building is demolished, we can never rebuild it," she said. "It's such a final and permanent decision."