MANSFIELD -- The Richland County Land Reutilization Corporation (Land Bank) board is moving forward on plans to clean up the former Swan Cleaners, located at 165 Park Ave. West.
At its Wednesday meeting, the board motioned to take ownership of the former dry cleaners, pending the Ohio EPA's approval, and for the property to be transferred to the Little Buckeye Children's Museum following the cleanup.
Land Bank manager Amy Hamrick hopes to have the Ohio EPA's approval by Jan. 16, as the land bank must take ownership of the property before Jan. 31 to qualify for the U.S. EPA Brownfields Clean Up Grant, which could award up to $500,000 for the remediation of environmental issues at the property. The land bank's intention is to clean up the property, while leaving the building intact.
Further, a public meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 for the public to discuss the proposal, where a rough draft will be available for review.
Environmental testing at the former dry cleaners shows that levels of chemical contamination are below actionable levels outside of building, but are quite high inside the building, Hamrick explained.
The potential grant would allow the land bank to clean up the property's environmental issues before transferring it to the Little Buckeye Children's Museum. This process is important because typically when a person or entity takes ownership of a property, they enter a chain of ownership, so that if an environmental issue later surfaces, past owners can be held financially responsible for the cleanup.
"Land banks do get immunity (for environmental liability) from the Ohio EPA, as long as we do our due diligence," Hamrick said. "The due diligence is ... that we go into ownership knowing exactly what we need to do to sell the property."
The land bank has gone through this process, she continued.
Little Buckeye Children's Museum's proposal
The Little Buckeye Children's Museum has anticipated a $75,000 to $100,000 investment to begin its own cleanup and basic renovations to the building, once it takes ownership, according to a letter from executive director, Fred Boll.
"With our purchase of the building at 174 Park Avenue West, and with our planned expansion of Little Buckeye and creation of the Imagination District, the building at 165 Park Avenue West plays a key role in the growth of the museum and the development of the Imagination District," Boll said.
The museum proposed creating a multi-use facility in the space. This would potentially include two retail spaces in the front of the building, storage space, and a dance studio on the second floor, which would be used by the Renaissance Theater, the museum's partner in creating the Imagination District.
"We are excited with the opportunity this building presents Little Buckeye Children's Museum and the Downtown Mansfield community, and we believe it will be a tremendous asset to the growth and development of the new district," Boll said in a letter.
The land bank did receive another application for the building. R. William Kennedy and Tabitha W. Payne of Howard, Ohio, submitted a proposal called, "Danger City Metalwork."
"Mansfield was once a booming industrial city, called Danger City, which was a reference to the automobile and racing enthusiasm in this region," the letter said. "We would like to be a part of the revitalization of Mansfield, Ohio with a business that reminds people of the history of this area."
The application explained Danger City Metalworks is a "concept business with the goal of creating custom metal artwork and sculpture, with themes of automobiles and racing being central."
While this idea was considered, the land bank board ultimately motioned to transfer the property to the Little Buckeye Children's Museum after the environmental cleanup is complete.
"As far as the writing of the U.S. EPA grant, you want a story that's strong. They're going to award 30 to 50 cleanup grants, and they'll probably get 800 applications. So the better our story, the better the chances of our application," Hamrick said to the board after sharing both proposals.
What happens next
If given the Ohio EPA's approval to purchase the property, the land bank hopes to take ownership of the former Swan Cleaners by Jan. 31, so that Hamrick can apply for the U.S. EPA Brownfields Clean Up Grant.
Once taking ownership, Hamrick intends to have the building cleaned out.
"I would like to put a notice out there for people who have wedding dresses and clothing they'd like to pick up," she said.
Many of the remaining clothes have tags on them, marking their owners. Clothing without owners might be donated.
Papers and some office furniture will also be removed from the building.
"The building itself is in real good shape, there's just a lot of stuff we're going to have to get rid of," Hamrick said.
She added that the land bank frequently visits the property.
How the Land Bank acquired this property
The Swan Cleaners building operated as a dry cleaners from 1946 through 2014.
Richland County treasurer, Bart Hamilton, foreclosed on the property for unpaid taxes, and the property was offered for sale by Richland County Sheriff’s department on Oct. 13, 2017 and again on Oct. 27, 2017, but did not sell. Therefore, it was forfeited to the State of Ohio on Nov. 20, 2017.