ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore announced the city of Elkhart has secured funding to knock down what might be the biggest eyesores in the city, the old Walter Piano building, at 700 W. Beardsley Ave.
Word of the announcement drew applause and cheers from a handful of city workers and neighbors who attended the news conference Thursday afternoon in the parking lot of the building, which sits at the corner of Beardsley and Michigan avenues.
Earlier this year, the city gained ownership of the building after its owner declined any interest in the building. Officials then scrambled to fulfill a series of steps necessary to win approval for the $500,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and the federal Community Development Block Grant program.
Final application for the grant was submitted just days before the deadline.
Officials have already hired a contractor to begin working on the initial stages of the demolition plan and will hire a contractor to do the demolition itself next month.
Demolition could begin after the first of the year, but is contingent on several factors.
Moore predicted, if all goes as scheduled, the 3.2-acre property could be transformed into a green space by early summer of next year.
Officials then hope to market and redevelop the property as a high tech industrial park.
The property has a rich history of providing jobs over the years, beginning as early as the 1900s when it was home to Elkhart Carriage & Harness Manufacturing and Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Manufacturing — and years later — Walter Piano, among others.
The property has been abandoned for about five years and fell into disrepair. The condition worsened earlier this year when a fire in the main building caused part of the roof to collapse.
News of the scheduled demolition is a relief to nearby residents and property owners.
How important is it to the neighborhood?
“On a scale of one to ten, it’s a ten,” said city council member Brian Thomas, whose district includes the property.
The Beardsley site marks the fourth major blighted property that will have been removed during Moore’s five years in office. The LaBour Pump property and the Elkhart Foundry were razed several years ago.
Demolition of the Bayer properties, just a short distance north of the Beardsley site, began this summer and is moving toward the final stages.
Correll credited Moore with the push.
“He’s been aggressive in redeveloping areas that need to be redeveloped,” said Correll.
The city has relied on grant money for much of the demolition work and Correll said about five other properties could eventually be in line for redevelopment if the funding could be acquired and property owners were agreeable. He declined to identify any, though.
While many area residents won’t shed a tear over the building’s demise, Moore offered a bittersweet reflection on the property’s legacy.
The demolition, he said, marks a new beginning in revitalizing the area.
“The building has served us well. It has sustained literally thousands of families through it’s existence,” Moore said. “In that sense, it deserves better than a wrecking ball. But we must move forward.”
Among those at the announcement was Kristen Senne, who has worked to organize a new neighborhood association in recent months that includes the Beardsley property.
Senne sought an assurance that neighbors would have a voice in the redevelopment process and expressed concern over possible problems stemming from demolition, including dust and water runoff.
Correll said contractors would take steps to control dust from the work by soaking the building before demolition and would develop a plan for managing water runoff.