Changes afoot for East Market Street

By Joseph Slacian

The north side of the 100 block of East Market Street in downtown Wabash will be getting a new look in the not-too-distant future.

The Wabash Historical Preservation Commission granted the Wabash County Business Alliance Foundation permission to raze seven of the nine homes between 104 and 192 E. Market St. to make room for new, high-end housing.

It also granted permission for the Foundation, an offshoot of Grow Wabash County, to raze the remaining two structures, if or when it gains ownership for those two sites.

Grow Wabash County President and CEO Keith Gillenwater explained to the commission the thinking behind the request.

Gillenwater, who began his current role in 2014, said one of the projects he zeroed in on was the end of East Market Street.

“One of the things that I identified as a weakness for our community was there hadn’t been anything that had really touched that East Market Street corridor at the end,” he said. “There were a lot of houses there that, for the most part, were rental units. Not all of them were occupied. Some were occupied, some were not. But all of them were in a state of disrepair and needed some work done to them.”

He said he kept revitalizing East Market in the back of his mind for a few years. In 2017, a Manchester University professor approached Grow Wabash County about a class project looking at revitalizing a community or addressing a need in community housing. Officials asked the class to look at the East Market Street area for possible ideas.

The results of the project, which was eventually presented to the Wabash City Council, noted a need to revitalize the area into either single family homes, a mix of commercial and residential properties or condo brownstone type of housing would be best.

A few months later, Zimmerman Volk Associates conducted a market study for housing in the city, looking not only at East Market Street, but also the Parkview legacy site on East Street and the former GDX property. The group gave suggestions on such things on what the market can sustain for new units, what sale prices could be and what lease or rental rates could be.

After that, the city and the Foundation began working to acquire the properties with a mixture of CEDIT and public funding.

The group now owns seven of the nine properties and are attempting to acquire the remaining two sites.

Plans tentatively call for placing up to 12 homes at the site, ranging in size from 1,300 square feet to 1,700 square feet, Gillenwater said. Each home would be a two-story structure two or three bedrooms.

The look of the homes also has yet to be determined.

“Our housing committee has looked over with one architect and one developer with several different designs,” Gillenwater said. “They came at us with everything from a suburban look with garages facing the front, which no one wanted, to the brownstone look and to mixes in between.

“I think where we have collectively landed, and where our board is looking … is we wanted it to stay residential. We know downtown residents work. Units, if they become available, will sell. We’re not looking to do apartments or multi-family rental units.”

He said the structures would be considered “common-walled, single-family units.”

Because the area is in a Historic District, any design must be approved by the commission.

City Attorney Doug Lehman also pointed out that the structures would be fair-market units.

“We are not looking to build subsidized housing in these units,” Gillenwater added. “These would all be fair-market rate, or upper-end, higher-end market rate. There is certainly a need for subsidized housing in this community, but for this particular project we are not looking at that at all.”

He said the group has not yet chosen a developer. “But since we started acquiring the properties, we have had several people reach out to us and have interest in doing something down there, including some locals saying they would like to partner up in doing something down there,” he added. “I don’t think we’ll have trouble finding a developer to partner with us.”

Funding raised through the sale of these structures will be used for work at the Parkview legacy and GDX sites, Gillenwater noted.

Only one property in the group would be of historic value, and that is the building that once house The Wabash Hotel at 118-122 E. Market St., commission chair Susan Stewart noted.

The hotel was known by a variety of names, including the Kaiser Hotel. Owner Joe Kaiser sold it to H.B. Crabil in 1909 and he kept the name Kaiser Hotel. However, with the onset of World War I, Crabil opted to change the name to The New Wabash Hotel. The “New” portion of the name was later dropped. It was later known as The Dixie Hotel and finally, The Allen Hotel.

Stewart said she spoke with officials from Indiana Landmarks who said saving the structure would take “an extensive renovation project.”

“It would take someone with really deep pockets,” she said. “While saving historical buildings and landmarks is our mission, we also have to be able to look at the big picture and look how we are going to benefit from this. I wish someone was around that could take care of it, but that could sit there for years and years, and from what Landmarks told me, there are a lot of issues with it.”

Commission member Lisa Gilman said she toured the structure and is concerned with the building’s basement.

“The basement has been exposed to elements for so many decades, that there are mold growths … on the walls,” she said.

“What I saw was the complete structural support system in the basement was completely saturated with water for so many decades that these growths were happening and there was nothing you could salvage down there.

“You would literally have to put a new structural support under the building before you could even start upstairs.”

Now that the commission has signed off on razing seven properties, Gillenwater said work on demolition could begin within weeks.

Posted on 2020 Sep 08