Status of Memorial Hall uncertain

Published 12:02 am Sunday, July 22, 2012

After losing a chance for approximately $2.5 million in federal funds the project to save Memorial Hall may be over unless other outside revenue sources can be secured.

“It doesn’t look good,” Commissioner Bill Pratt said. “The county doesn’t have the money to finance the whole project. We will keep thinking (about options). I support saving the building but there are limits to what we can do with taxpayers’ money.”

Last week the county learned it had lost the Maritime Securities Grant it sought to pay the majority of the $3.7 million estimate to restore the aging 19th Century structure.

On Friday supporters of saving the structure got a boost when members of the Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board voted to recommend Memorial Hall for national historic site status.

The board’s recommendation was made during a meeting at the Ohio History Center in Columbus. As a result, Memorial Hall and eight other Ohio properties will be forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register, who directs the program for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

If the keeper agrees that Memorial Hall meets the criteria for listing, it will be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

A decision from the keeper is expected in about 90 days.

The county had been eyeing the property since the first of the year to turn it into a headquarters for EMS, EMA, 911 dispatching and the county coroner. Right now those operations are housed in separate buildings that no longer meet their needs.

In June Ralph Kline of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization presented five financing options to the county commissioners to pay for the renovation.

One focused on the county getting the grant and then borrowing $1.85 million. The monthly loan payment would be $20,417 with a portion of that offset by renting out space in the building to a commercial enterprise.

Other options were the county issuing bonds for $3,753,000 and either renting out space or not, which would determine its monthly payment; and the county entering into a lease-purchase arrangement with a third party.

If the building had tenants, the monthly cost would be $32,083. Without tenants and with a syndicate that had historic tax credits for the building, the monthly cost would be $20,417.

The commissioners also asked County Auditor Jason Stephens and Kline to determine the utility expense currently for the county’s emergency operations and the cost of utilities at a restored Memorial Hall.

“The utility expense (at a revamped Memorial Hall) would be about double what we pay for for the offices that we have,” Pratt said. “That would eat up your rental income. We were hoping to save some money. That shoots that part down.”

Pratt said even if the county can’t save Memorial Hall, there may be other ways to consolidate the emergency services.

“It is disappointing (about the project),” he said. “But we have to look at things differently as commissioners as we would as citizens.”