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What’s going on with Defiance’s 1918 school building?

Acquired by the City of Defiance for purposes of promoting redevelopment, the property’s future was discussed by a northern Ohio consultant during a city council committee session Tuesday.

Jason Hammon of Hammon Consulting Group, Vermilion, explained the task of trying to find an end user for the building.

Hammon has been under contract for a couple months with the city government which recently acquired the 1918 building as a way to buy time to locate a redeveloper. Otherwise, the building could face demolition.

In introducing himself Tuesday, Hammon said his firm provides “site selection and tax incentive consulting for corporate clients, helping them identify locations to expand or relocate facilities, and then also provide economic development services to cities, counties, port authorities and other economic development focus groups.”

Hammon noted that he “loves old buildings, especially school buildings. I think they have a lot of redevelopment potential.”

As such, he said his firm is putting together marketing materials to distribute to potential development prospects, noting that a website devoted entirely to the school is planned.

According to Hammon, his company has put together a preliminary “teaser document” with information about the building and target uses “that the city has identified, chief among them a boutique hotel with a restaurant and maybe some retail as well.”

During preliminary efforts to market the building, Hammon said “there’s been a few people, who’ve said, ‘yea, we’d like to learn more.’ So now it’s that process of we’re starting to share more information with them.”

But a hotel is not the only redevelopment possibility. Others mentioned Tuesday included “market-rate” condominiums or working spaces for entrepreneurial businesses to begin and expand.

“... at the end of the day this is about creating a vibrant atmosphere in downtown Defiance and a broader community, and all of these things help do that,” said Hammon.

Mayor Mike McCann said the city hopes to hold an open house for potential developers to take a look at the building. The public would be excluded from such an event, he said.

McCann hopes this could still be scheduled this fall as the building’s heat has been turned off.

“Jason’s idea was to host it of course right at the school, to bring in various developers and groups that might have an interest in the building — invite them in,” explained McCann, noting that potential uses, a vision and possible tax abatements could be discussed.

He and Hammon fielded a number of questions from city council members and a crowd of about 25 onlookers who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

At-large Councilman Joe Eureste, for example, asked who would make a decision about what goes in the building, especially if there is competing proposals.

While City Law Director Sean O’Donnell observed that council would have to approve property transfers, McCann said any developments likely would be discussed first with council members in executive session.

Defiance resident Ralph Hahn asked Hammon what he thought would be the “highest and best use” of the property.

“I think a boutique hotel would do really well there,” said Hammon. “... It’s such a unique building. It’s got a prominent place in the community. I think it would do really well.”

Hahn said he had heard nothing mentioned about the property being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He wanted to know if this designation would be considered to help secure grants for developers.

“It can certainly be eligible,” said Hammon. “Ohio has a historic tax credit program as does the federal government, so both of those incentive programs could be used to help redevelop it for sure.”

Hahn noted that some development restrictions go with the historic designation while Hammon said he is aware of these.

A local committee of concerned citizens (Save Our School) led efforts to have the building paced on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). This opens the possibility that tax credits could be used to help repurpose the structure.

Noting the SOS committee’s work in achieving NRHP designation for the building, Hahn said “we worked hard to get it there to save the integrity of the building, and that means the appearance on the outside — to maintain it as much as possible from its original state.

And to use those tax credits that should be abided by. To add something on the top of it or the side, I don’t know where that would fit in.”

McCann said the city’s interest is trying to create “vibrancy” in the downtown, so if “somebody came to us today with a proposal to do market-rate apartments or market-rate condos with a solid management plan that would also utilize the auditorium and the gymnasium, I think we would be interested to hear more about what they have to say.”

“I would hope there’s a whole lot interested ... because that’s probably the most feasible avenue that we could have,” responded Hahn. “However, whatever comes out of an accomplishment of saving that building will be welcomed.”

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