St. Clair Building causes concerns

MARIETTA – A downtown building constructed in 1900 and once home to everything from a bank to a shoe shine company is now being called a safety concern by a Marietta city councilman.

Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, said he has noticed a number of buildings around the area with serious issues that need to be addressed, including the St. Clair building.

“It certainly is the most visible problem because of its location in downtown Marietta,” he said.

The building is located at 216 Putnam St., across from the Washington County Courthouse.

The building was named for Arthur St. Clair, the first governor of the Northwest Territory.

The owner of the building is the First Bank of Ohio, according to the Washington County Auditor’s Office. Bank President Patrick Tonti is also the owner of Tonti Properties, based in Dallas, Texas. Tonti Properties has several large retail buildings and a number of residential buildings scattered across the United States.

The St. Clair building has been empty for about a decade but was once home to a wide variety of local businesses.

Law offices, loan companies and a shoe shine shop are just a few of the businesses that were located in the building when it was still occupied, said Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews.

It was also the first location in Marietta of Peoples Bank.

“The last time it was really used was by a group of attorneys around 2002,” said Kalter. “It supposedly had a new roof put on it then, but that roof has already partially collapsed.”

Neither Tonti or a spokesperson for the Bank of Ohio returned a call for comment. It’s unclear if the space is available to be rented.

In addition to Kalter, some neighbors have also expressed concern about the condition of the building.

Several years ago glass from the St. Clair building’s windows fell onto the roof of the Washington-Morgan Community Action building, said David Brightbill, executive director of Community Action.

“It’s been about four years, but there were shards of glass falling onto our roof,” he said. “They did replace the windows after we contacted them, it just took a couple of months before they were fixed.”

Broken windows aren’t the only problem that Kalter has seen or heard about.

“Graffiti has been on the front and side of the building for at least 10 years,” he said. “I’ve also been told there is a mold issue in the building, despite not being able to see inside to confirm that. You can also see part of the roof in the basement has collapsed.”

Marianne Monaghan, the co-owner of Barking Dog Books and Art LLC, said she has been a close neighbor to the St. Clair building for more than a year now.

“I’ve seen the windows on the upper floor and they look like they could fall out at any time,” said Monaghan. “The bottom level has weeds, garbage and mold growing. It has really deteriorated since the last flood.”

Monaghan said she wishes that either the city or the landlord would take some sort of action, because the building is only getting worse.

“Someone should be able to address the owner and ask if he plans to sell or maintain the building,” she said. “Old buildings don’t get better with age like a fine wine, and it really is a drag on downtown Marietta.”

Local organization ReStore Marietta has had the St. Clair building on its radar for some time now, according to Executive Director Mallory Greenham.

“We keep tabs on all area buildings that have been vacant for an extended period of time,” she said. “We worry about absentee landlords that refuse to market or maintain their property.”

ReStore Marietta is a volunteer driven, nonprofit organization with a mission to promote, protect and revitalize the historic downtown, according to Greenham. Greenham said the St. Clair building could be a huge safety concern if it continues to be improperly maintained.

“It’s a very large building right in the middle of downtown Putnam Street,” she said. “If a fire were to break out or the building collapse the damage would be catastrophic to the area and could put firefighters’ lives at risk.”

Kalter said he filed a complaint Feb. 20 because he too believes the building currently poses a potential health risks to citizens.

“I decided to file a complaint with both the Building Code Enforcement Board and the City Health Department,” said Kalter. “It looks like two of the big window panes could fall out anytime because the wood that holds them up appears to be rotting.”

Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, said he looked at the windows that Kalter told him about but wasn’t sure just how dangerous they are.

“It’s hard for me to tell how dangerous they are looking up from the outside,” said McCauley, who represents the downtown district. “The building enforcement board will be able to go inside and check things out and then contact the owner if there is a problem.”

Kalter’s complaint hasn’t been reviewed by the Building Code Enforcement Board because its next meeting isn’t until Monday.

Matthews said when a complaint is filed it is dealt with in a series of steps.

“If a complaint is registered, the board first discusses it to decide if it’s a valid issue,” he said. “If we do find an issue then we inform the owner that we will need to do a walk-through of the building.”

If any issues are found then the owner is given a set amount of time to correct them or faces penalties, according to Matthews.

Penalties for refusing to correct issues could range from the owner being fined to the building being demolished.

“The only way a building would be demolished would be if it was a safety hazard to the health and safety of the people,” said Matthews. “I don’t believe that this building needs to be demolished, but when we receive the complaint we will look into the matter.”

Another downtown site

The St. Clair building isn’t the only downtown structure that has caused some concern.

Neighbors of 215 Second St. say there are safety issues there as well.

The first and second floors of the four-story building are occupied, said Ryan Smith, owner of Marietta Adventure Company and neighbor to the building.

The first floor of the building houses businesses Kelley Ink Tattoo’s & Piercing and Roger’s Imaging, while the second floor serves as a residential area.

“The only issue that there has been with the building is with glass breaking out of the upper story windows,” said Smith. “When the wind blows hard glass can fall out on to the front sidewalk or the alley beside the building.”

Smith said this has only been an issue the past few years and he has contacted the landlord to inform him of the situation.

“I try to be a good neighbor. If I notice an issue I’ll give him a call and tell him about it,” he said.

With glass falling, the safety of those visiting the downtown area is compromised, he said.

“For his and those visiting downtown’s sake I hope it gets fixed soon,” said Smith. “Glass falling from four stories high onto someone would be a pretty serious thing.”

John Hendricks said he has been a partial owner of the building since the early 70s and became the sole owner of the property sometime in the 90s.

He is aware of the potential risk and is planning not only to address the issue, but to fix it as soon as possible, he said.

“It is a safety concern and we want to repair it as soon as we can,” said Hendricks. “We are planning on having it done by spring or summer. We are just waiting on a little better weather.”

Kalter said he would like to see Marietta adopt a new property management code to help reduce building issues like these.

“The city adopted the current code in July of 1999, so it seems we are a bit outdated in terms of an update,” he said. “We need the code to be updated and a system to properly enforce it to be instituted as soon as possible.”