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05-10-06 From county building to arts center

By Tim Cox

  The owners of the St. Marys Theater are the top bidders for the former Mercer County administration building in Celina. They plan to renovate it into a performing arts center.

Mercer County officials plan to sell the former county administration building to local businessman Tim Townsend for $130,000. Townsend plans to use the building as some sort of performing arts education center.<br></br>

  Mercer County Commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution instructing the county Community Improvement Corp. (CIC) to sell the building to Tim and Leslie Townsend of rural Celina, who bid $130,000 for the structure at 311 S. Main St. and the adjacent parking lot. Commissioners made the decision after meeting privately with Community Development Director Larry Stelzer to discuss the business plans of two proposed uses for the building.

  The county CIC's rules require the group to consider job creation and other economic development issues when selling county land, although the Townsends are not contractually obligated to follow through with their plans or create any jobs.

  The Townsends' business plan proposes potential uses as a performing arts education center or -- with large scale renovations -- a performance center.

  Tim Townsend this morning confirmed the use of the building would center around the arts but said a final use has not been determined.  "I don't want to say too much until we actually get the building and decide for sure which plan we're going to pursue," Townsend said.

  Some renovations are likely before the building reopens to the public, he said.

  Commissioners said the business plan they reviewed does not include financial figures or the type of detail that would be included in a business plan to secure a bank loan. Instead, the plan offers a general overview of the potential future use of the building.

  The $130,000 will go into the county's general fund.

  County officials have been trying to sell the building since 2000 after county offices were relocated from the former administration building and the county courthouse to the Central Services Building on West Livingston Street.

  The three-floor building was constructed in 1924 and has had a number of owners and uses through the years. It was used by Ohio Northern University and Wright State University to hold classes and later was owned by the West Ohio Education Foundation.

  The county purchased the building for $150,000 in 1974 from the education foundation, and it was used until the commissioners relocated some offices there and at the courthouse to the Central Services Building.

  It's main drawback is considered its lack of handicap accessibility.

  The building and parking lot were appraised at a combined $260,000 last year.


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