Group hopes to clean up former landmark site

Herald file photo
The historic Koerner Commercial Block building was destroyed by arson fire last October.

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The Birdseye site that was once home to the historic Koerner Commercial Block building — which was destroyed by arson fire last October — could be used as greenspace for the community or developed by an interested company.

But before that can happen, the property at 101 and 103 State Road 145 has to be transferred to the group wanting to remove the bricks and clean up the property.

That group, the Save The Koerner Block committee, also needs the $10,000 bill in back taxes to be removed from the property.

Committee representatives asked the Dubois County Commissioners Monday if they would still waive the $10,000 in back taxes that are on the property. The commissioners had already agreed to waive the bill, but that was when the plans were to renovate the building that stood on the property.

Indiana Landmarks had secured an option agreement on the property, which had been part of Birdseye’s downtown since the 1890s, with owners Karen and Ronald Ellis; the plan was to buy the building for $1. And volunteers had stabilized the structure and cleaned the site using donations and grant funds.

But when the building burned down in October, plans changed. And since the commissioners made the renovation a stipulation to waive the back taxes, the committee knew they needed to make a new waiver request.

“Our goal is to clean up the space and have a nice area,” Mary Ann Cummings, secretary and treasurer of the committee, told the commissioners Monday. “We don’t have the long-term plan yet, but we want to maintain it. The goal right now is to make it look pleasant.”

The committee has put in place a nonprofit organization, Koerner Block Inc., she said. The current owner of the site will sign over ownership to the organization, she explained. The plan is to have the site cleaned up by October.

The commissioners were still in favor of waiving the tax bill. But, they said, they don’t want to waive it only to have the current owner not give the property to the organization. The owner has signed an agreement that she will give the organization ownership, Archie McCutcheon, chairman of the Save The Koerner Block committee, told the commissioners.

“We want to make the property better and try to get this property back on the market,” he said. “It’s not marketable as it is now.”

The commissioners reiterated that they will forgive the debt so long as the organization owns the property. County Attorney Art Nordhoff is going to check some legal issues to make sure the commissioners can forgive a debt on a property that has transferred to a new owner, or if that debt has to be forgiven before the transfer. Another option could be that the commissioners take ownership of the property and then give it to the organization, Nordhoff added; he plans to research that idea as well.

Herald Staff Writer Bill Powell contributed to this report.




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