Delaware City Council voted last week to allow the demolition of the historic Elks building, reversing a decision by the city's Historic Preservation Commission.
Delaware County officials want to demolish the structure at 110 N. Sandusky St. to make room for a new, multimillion-dollar court building. The vacant Italianate building, commonly known as the Elks building, was built in the late 1800s by Dr. Ralph Hills, one of the founders of Ohio Wesleyan Female College and Oak Grove Cemetery.
Council voted 6-1 at its meeting Monday, Aug. 11, to grant the county's appeal of a January decision by the Delaware Historic Preservation Commission that blocked the demolition.
Councilman Andrew Brush said the decision was necessary to keep the county's court operations in downtown Delaware.
"I take very seriously the county commissioners' statement that if they can't build the new courthouse on the Hills home site, they will build it outside of the downtown," he said. "Some call that a threat. I don't view it as a threat. I view it as a simple statement of fact."
Brush said the county moving operations out of downtown Delaware would be "disastrous" for nearby businesses.
County Commissioner Gary Merrell previously told council the county likely would seek an undeveloped site for the new courthouse if the demolition were not allowed. He said that site might be within city limits but was unlikely to be located near the city's downtown.
Proponents of saving the home have asked why the county can't build the new courthouse around the Elks building. County officials said the costs of renovating the building and constructing the new courthouse toward the back of the site were both major and unnecessary.
Vice Mayor George Hellinger cast the lone vote against granting the appeal.
"I think that anyone, public or private, (who owns) a historic building should view that building and their position of ownership as being a steward of history and a bridge between the current generation and future generations," he said.
Hellinger previously had questioned whether the county took appropriate steps to preserve the structure after it purchased the site in 2006.
Even if the city ruled to block the demolition, Brush said it had no way of forcing the county to maintain or renovate the structure.
"Based on past precedent and the current condition of the building, I believe the building would eventually be condemned and demolished anyway," he said.
Brush said the construction of a new courthouse, however, likely would lead to continued investment by the county in the other historic downtown structures it owns, such as the current courthouse, the old jail and the Carnegie library building.
Council voted unanimously later in the meeting for the city to study the feasibility of adding those properties to the city's downtown Historic District.
County officials had told council they would support the properties' inclusion in the district if the demolition request was approved. The inclusion would give the city more say over construction, demolition and renovation projects on the sites.