By Kevin Collison
Developer Chris Sally has swooped in to save a long-neglected, historic building in the heart of downtown that had been slated to be demolished this week.
The big question now is, what is he going to do with it?
“We called the owner on Sunday and got it under contract yesterday,” Sally said.
“It’s sort of like a dog chasing a car. Once you catch it, what are you going to do with it?”
It is the former Seiden’s Furs at 935 Broadway.
Built in 1874, it’s possible the oldest remaining building within the Downtown Loop but it’s owner has allowed the vacant, two-story structure to fall apart for more than a decade.
The roof is partly collapsed and the trash-filled interior is soaked. There’s standing water in the basement where the old rotating barrel where furs were cleaned with a mixture that included walnut shells still remains.
The city declared it a dangerous building two years ago.
Artist Peregrine Honig had a vision to renovate it as artist studios, but said the owner, Dan Shaffer, turned down her offer to buy the brick building for $170,000. Her architect estimated it would cost at least $2.1 million to restore it.
The city finally had enough and issued an emergency demolition notice last week.
Now, Sally, who’s had extensive experience renovating several historic structures including the historic Water Building in the River Market, is trying to figure out his next move.
On Wednesday, he and others were sifting through the debris, squishing through the damp carpet and using flashlights to orient themselves. At one point, one intrepid explorer’s foot broke through the rotting second floor ceiling.
Sally said his decision to pursue renovating the 14,000 square-foot building came from the heart.
“It’s the oldest building in the Loop and it would be a travesty if it became another parking lot,” he said. “I’m a small developer and this is probably the biggest challenge of anything I’ve ever faced.”
The condition of what originally was the home of the Brackett Brothers Drugstore is being compared to the old Cosby Hotel at Ninth and Baltimore. That 1881 structure was crumbling and set for demolition before developers restored it as offices and restaurants.
“We’re going to need a lot of help from the city and downtown community if we want this to be saved,” Sally said.
“I’ve got the demolition stopped and do have permission from the owners to stabilize the building prior to closing.”
Potential uses could be a speakeasy in the basement, a rooftop bar and possibly artist studios. The building however, has no parking.
“I go about developing by letting the building talk to me and letting me know what it wants to be,” Sally said.
Sean O’Byrne, vice president of the Downtown Council, an association of downtown business and property owners, said his organization is will to help.
“The Downtown Council has been involved with this place since it went into blight,” he said. “We’ve been working with the city on a solution.
“We stand ready to help bring this historic structure back to productive life.”
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