City acquires Armory Building on Main Street

The city of Elkhart has acquired the Armory building on Main Street and will seek an investor to develop it or have it demolished.
Posted on Dec. 31, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 31, 2012 at 4:41 p.m.

ELKHART — There are two ways to look at the city of Elkhart’s newly acquired property on Main Street known as the Armory.

Inside the ground floor of the two-story building, amid a rotting floor and ceiling, there is a plenty of clutter ranging from old wooden kegs to beer signs and shelving.

The warped wood floor under the carpet creates the appearance of waves and is topped off with paint chips, dirt and ceiling debris.

Upstairs, stacks of unused shingles left with good intentions sit among the rubble and a basketball hoop clings to the rafters and probably hasn’t been used since Larry Bird was a kid.

But fling open the old fire escape door on the building’s east side on the second floor and a glimpse of the St. Joseph River and a nearby park provide the rationale that makes the property still very valuable.

Having just acquired the 106-year-old property, the city’s redevelopment commission will now seek developers who see the potential and are willing to invest money in cleaning up and renovating the building, said Barkley Garrett, director of economic development.

But the window of opportunity won’t remain open long and if nobody steps forward, the city stands ready to demolish the building, then make the land available for development, Garrett said.

“Either way, this will be a very intriguing piece of property for the downtown,” Garrett said.

The city acquired the building and two parking lots on Friday, following negotiations with real estate broker John Letherman, who once skated in the upstairs roller rink of the building and prepared a somewhat convoluted deal that made it workable for the city.

Under Letherman’s proposal, the city purchased two parking lots adjacent to the building for $40,833. In exchange, the property owner, Bill Long, agreed to donate the building to the city, Garrett said.

The agreement was needed so that the city could avoid being accused of purchasing a building that hardly anyone wants in its current state.

Garrett said the city will seek input from the Indiana Landmarks about the building’s future. The group helped fund a study of the buildings condition and has an interest in preserving old historic buildings.

“They said they have seen worse and have salvaged worse in other parts of the state,” Garrett said. “We’ll see.”

He said one interested investor has expressed some interest in the property, but declined to identify the person or group.

The redevelopment commission agreed last month to spend several thousand dollars to cover the roof to prevent further damage.

The building was never used as an actual armory, but has been home to auto sales and repair businesses, an A&P Food Store, an office machine company and liquor stores. The upper floor was a long-time roller skating rink and later a dance club.

The property had been on the market and listed for $299,500.

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