Richmond’s Historic Preservation Commission must decide the fate of four buildings, including three that line North Ninth Street alongside the U.S. 27 bridge. Photo by Mike Emery

Demolition would clear way for 26,000-square-foot new building

Bob Johnson will return to Richmond’s Historic Preservation Commission with updated drawings of a new, three-story mixed-use building.

When he does, likely during the Feb. 13 meeting, commission members must choose between that new building and four vacant houses in varying states of neglect and disrepair. Johnson has applied for a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish those buildings.

Johnson thinks tearing down the structures at 814 N. D St., 400 N. Ninth St., 406 N. Ninth St. and 410 N. Ninth St. eliminates a Depot District problem. The buildings, three of which line North Ninth between North D Street and Elm Place along the west side of the U.S. 27 bridge, have spent years empty and unsecured.

“It’s a bad situation,” Johnson said. “If you want the Depot District to grow, you’ve got to clean it up a little bit.”

Matt Stegall, a local preservation supporter and leader of Richmond Columbian Properties, disagrees. He thinks the four former residences should be saved, and that they could be restored and made into nice residences or commercial properties.

“You’ve got to think outside the box,” Stegall said.

The four buildings stand inside the city’s Depot Conservation District. That’s why Johnson needs a Certificate of Appropriateness to proceed with his project. He bought the four properties last August.

Stegall said the Historic Preservation Commission’s charge is to support historic preservation and protect these buildings, not enable their demolition. He spoke at the commission’s December meeting against the project when Johnson presented it.

“I consider it a victory,” he said of having the decision delayed.

The commission asked Johnson for more complete renderings of how his mixed-use building would look.

The building at 406 N. Ninth St. is one of four under consideration for demolition. Photo by Mike Emery

Johnson plans to invest about $3.2 million to create a 26,000-square-foot three-story structure with a basement. Abilities Richmond, where his wife, Tami, is executive director, might use some of the space. There might be a bed-and-breakfast on the third floor, he said.

The building would be away from the bridge, toward the property’s southwest corner, with parking on the north side closest to Abilities Richmond, which is just across Elm Place.

Before Abilities Richmond moved to 831 N. E St., Johnson renovated that building. It had a large hole in the roof when he began that renovation project to create a coffee shop plus office and activity spaces.

Johnson is willing to again invest in the Depot District after preserving the North E Street building. He thinks there’s been plenty of time for someone to renovate the four structures, and he wonders how attractive buildings right next to the bridge are to investors. The Indiana Department of Transportation plans to begin this year a two-year project to replace the bridge.

Stegall, who also attended the Historic Preservation Commission’s Jan. 9 meeting to offer help with their mission, said those buildings are indicative of a bigger problem. They weren’t properly secured when they became vacant to prevent accessibility and delay deterioration. He thinks the Historic Preservation Commission should be a driving force to secure buildings, called land banking, and protect a conservation district’s history and character.

In the end, though, he expects Johnson’s project to proceed.

“I think they’ll probably be torn down,” Stegall said of the buildings. “There’s not any groundswell of support for historic preservation in Richmond.”

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Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.