MANSFIELD--The walls creaked as they gave way, crumbling into fragments that sent dust billowing up from the pile of rubble during the demolition Wednesday afternoon.
The rain didn't stop a crowd from huddling outside Theater 166, umbrellas in hand, to watch the the former Rainbow Mortgage building, 154 Park Ave. West, finally come down.
The demolition was a celebrated step towards the completion of the Imagination District, a collaborative effort between the Renaissance Performing Arts Association and Little Buckeye Children's Museum.
"We're cutting the ribbon on a demolition, which I have to say might be a first for me," said Jodie Perry, president and CEO of the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development.
The property, purchased last year by the Renaissance, will be converted into a green space plaza shared by the two organizations. The Renaissance will use the space for outdoor performances. Little Buckeye will hold classes and programming and possibly outdoor exhibits.
The back of the plaza will have a space for food truck parking.
"We hope to create a public space in Downtown Mansfield," said Fred Boll, director of the Little Buckeye Children's Museum. "We're very excited."
Before the demolition began, Boll and Mike Miller, CEO of the Renaissance Performing Arts Association, donned bright yellow hard hats and took a strike at the building with a ceremonial sledgehammer, complete with a golden head.
According to records from the Richland County Auditor, Rainbow Mortgage Inc. sold the building in August 2009. Little has been done to improve the property in the last decade. It mostly sat vacant.
"To see Rainbow Mortgage come down...A lot of people have been wanting to see it come down and today's the day," said Boll.
The first phase of the Imagination District project was the development of the Renaissance Education Center. Located at 166 Park Avenue West, the building offers a blackbox theater on the main level and classrooms upstairs that are currently utilized by the Pioneer Career and Technology Center's performing arts program.
The adjacent building at 174 Park Ave. West is undergoing renovations and is set to open in 2021 as the new home of the Little Buckeye Museum.