Thursday, May 23, 2002

Can Odd Fellows be saved?

Officials wrestle with options

By Jim Hannah,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The “best in the business” surveyed the Odd Fellows Hall to determine whether it could be saved, but the city still hadn't decided what it would do about the smoking shell of the Civil War-era landmark.

[photo] David Jansing (left), with Unified Investigations and Sciences Inc., huddles with Covington Assistant Fire Chief Mike Swain on Wednesday in front of the burned-out shell of the Odd Fellows Hall
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Five arson investigators were at the scene Wednesday, but no cause was determined for the Tuesday fire that destroyed the three-story building.

        After a three-hour closed-door meeting on whether to demolish the building, built in 1856 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Covington officials and developers who want to restore and renovate it still couldn't decide. They put the decision off until this morning.

        Tradesmen from as far as Indianapolis — “the best masonry folks, structural engineers, demolition folks and contractors,” according to Greg Shumate, attorney for the developers — studied the building from a crane to evaluate the structural integrity of the remaining walls.

        Mr. Shumate said he believed that if the walls can be saved, the developers will receive the $550,000 Renaissance Kentucky grant previously awarded by the state and federal tax credits for historic renovation.

[photo] Andrew Piaskowy (left), an architect with Mansure Construction Services, talks with Damian Sells, one of the Odd Fellows Hall's owners.
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        Mr. Shumate, who represents developers Damian and Kelly Sells and Tony Milburn, said his clients have presented the city with several options that would save what's left of the hall. He said the question appears to come down to time — whether the remaining walls can be braced and preserved in a timely manner without keeping businesses and streets closed.

        City Manager Greg Jarvis said the city's decision will come down to safety.

        Mr. Shumate said experts have advised that even demolishing what's left of the building could be risky if the walls are not braced. And firefighters say they cannot finish extinguishing the blaze until it's safe for them to enter the ruins.

        Meanwhile, business owners are upset that no decision has been made. They were asked to show up at city hall to learn when they could re-open, but were not allowed into the meeting.

        “We are losing money,” said Floyd Hopper, 59, of Covington. “We want to know when we can get back into our businesses. This is my livelihood. The bills keep coming.”

        Road closures continued to slow traffic as firefighters sprayed water on the building for the second day.

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