Downtown Commission votes to demolish Main Bar, upsetting Columbus Landmarks, others

Mark Ferenchik Jim Weiker
The Columbus Dispatch
The Columbus Downtown Commission has voted to approve the demolition of the closed Main Bar, 16 W. Main St. near South High Street.

The Columbus Downtown Commission on Tuesday approved the demolition of the Main Bar, a 130-year-old city landmark, even though the owner has no specific development plans for the site.

"I think that the most-surprising or perhaps most-disappointing aspect to this is that what we're getting is seven parking spaces," said Becky West, the executive director of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, which has included the building at 16 W. Main St. on its most-endangered sites list.

The bar announced it was closing in February. The decision to demolish the Main Bar created a stir on social media, where Columbus Landmarks posted its response to the 5-1 Downtown Commission vote.

"What’s my least favorite thing about Columbus? The relentless drive to demolish all traces of local history in the name of modernity. It’s a Tantalean punishment that will never satisfy the city’s stakeholders," tweeted Stacey N. Hauff.

James Stevenson tweeted: "The whole internet is excited that an old downtown building is getting replaced by new development! *5 seconds later* we regret to inform you that they're just putting in 7 parking spaces."

The commission agreed to demolish the building at the request of its owner, Schiff Properties. 

According to staff in the city's planning division, two inspectors – one hired by the owner and one hired by the city – found "that there are structural issues with the building rendering it unsafe." One report recommended that the building be demolished; the other concluded that "the building is beyond repair." 

After reviewing the reports, city staff recommended approving the demolition, a change from its previous position.

The commission approved the demolition on the condition that Schiff Properties has a redevelopment plan approved for the site within two years. The development firm also owns surrounding parking lots on the northwest corner of Main and S. High streets. 

“We’ve been looking to do a project for the last eight to 12 months," said the firm's Jared Schiff.

"I don’t think it’s too far away. I'm not going to give a definitive time, but I’d say within the next six to 12 months we could potentially have plans in front of the city to review," he added. "We really want to do something beautiful on this corner; we know it’s a critical corner to Downtown."

'I don't understand why our city cares so little'

West said it's common for older buildings to have maintenance issues.

"In this city, it justifies the loss of historic architecture," she said. 

"I don’t understand why our city cares so little when so many people are making investments in a better Columbus. To us this a big step backwards."

There is already an overabundance of surface parking Downtown, West said. 

Asked about the social media backlash, Susan Keeny, Columbus Landmarks' preservation director, said: "I would hope that people are feeling that we shouldn’t be tearing down our historic buildings. Downtown has lost so much."

She called the Main Bar building charming and very characteristic of what was once Downtown. 

According to Columbus Landmarks, the building was known as the "Hare and Corbin" saloon in 1890.

Is the Main Bar building architecturally significant?

Bob Loversidge, the CEO of Schooley Caldwell architects, cast the lone "no" vote on the Downtown Commission. He said if all the original buildings on that block were still intact, the Main Bar would be a background building.

"But because they're all gone, the one that remains is much more valuable," Loversidge said.

"It’s just sad. And we have a long-standing policy that we don’t let people tear down a building unless there is a plan."

Loversidge said the two engineering reports on the condition of the building were enough to convince the majority of the commission that demolition was merited. 

But just because the building is in disrepair doesn't mean it couldn't be saved, although repairing it would be expensive, Loversidge said.

"It's a temporary condition," he said.

Mike Shannon, an attorney representing Schiff Properties, ridiculed the notion that the building was architecturally valuable. 

“I have done a number of demolitions in historic districts throughout my career and inevitably the testimony says you’re tearing down paradise to put up a parking lot," Shannon told the commission. 

"Well, we’re surrounded by a parking lot, our interim use is a parking lot and the only pair of dice we found in this bar was the pair in the back room they used to shoot craps.”