Resident fights to save historic Plainville building
Inside the second floor of 217 W. Mill St. in Plainville, it’s easy to hear birds outside chittering through gaping holes in the limestone walls.
From her research, Bee Reif believes the building sitting sandwiched in the middle of Plainville’s downtown is more than 100 years old.
But its end may be near, unless Reif succeeds in her effort to save it from demolition, and its two retail spaces.
“No. 1 they’re historical and No. 2, those are all shared walls and there’s a possibility of losing that entire block,” said Reif on Sunday as she gave a tour. “If those shared walls aren’t treated on the outside and taken care of properly, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s a huge hole in our community.”
Empty now, and sandwiched between two other storefronts, the building was divided long ago into separate retail spaces with two addresses. The two owners include Stacy Keas, who bought one side seven years ago.
Anyone who knows Plainville can tick off the various retail businesses that once occupied it. Most famously, Green’s bridal wear, for decades the go-to shop for miles around to buy a wedding gown, Skogmos department store, No Limits gym, the Masonic Temple, Keas’ Little Lambs day care, among others.
Now, both sides are empty because the exterior wall facing the alley is bulging and collapsing.
It’s a day of reckoning for the big two-story building, says Reif, who transplanted to Plainville from Alaska a year ago when she and her husband, Vincent, returned to manage the family’s Three Roses Ranch in Rooks County.
For the community
Spearheading the effort to save it, Reif said the goal is to get the structure stabilized, then work with some non-profit avenues to donate the building back to the community of 1,200 residents, perhaps as a community event center, or a movie theater.
As a mom with two young children and a third on the way, Reif said saving it would help the town’s economy and quality of life by increasing business or entertainment offerings in the community.
“The people that currently own the building are not able to do anything,” said Reif, who has a digital marketing company and owns a building on that same block of the street.
“So me and my husband are doing everything in our power to try and save the buildings,” she said. “We think there’s a lot of history in them, and also that it can create more problems in the years to come. We don’t want to see that heavy tax burden on the taxpayers and also the loss of revenue through taxes, with there being empty lots there.”
Safety vs. saving
Safety concerns have forced the hand of the Plainville City Council, says city administrator Jim Mesecher. The council on Feb. 2 opened bids to demolish the building. Reif asked and received a 90-day extension to crusade for money to save it.
The city isn’t to blame, Reif said.
“The city is trying to make the best decision they can in the really unfortunate circumstances,” she said. “There is worry, for sure, and that’s why they’ve opted for me to try and do what I can here. They’ve one hund percent said, ‘We’d rather see these buildings stay and we don’t want to be the bad guy.’ But what do you do? We’re in a really bad position in all of it.”
Mesecher says the back of the building is a danger, and the biggest concern.
“That’s where we’re really concerned, is with the back of that building,” he said. “And I don’t know how much of that will affect the interior, or the fronts, but this is old limestone and there are pieces of it falling out onto the ground.”
The city received four bids for demolition, from $59,000 on the low end to $165,000 on the high.
From what Mesecher, Keas and Reif say, that’s not anyone’s preferred option.
“It’ll leave quite a big hole if it has to come down,” Mesecher said. “As far as either building on either side that connects to it, it’s just questionable on how that will work, for each one of those owners, will it affect their building detrimentally, or do they have a shared wall or not a shared wall? Those are questions that you really can’t answer until the contractor that’s doing it gets in there.”
Keas supports Reif’s effort.
“I can’t afford to fix it,” she said, noting she closed her daycare two years ago when limestone blocks began tumbling off the back of the building.
Likewise, she can’t afford to tear it down.
“It’s going to cost as much to tear it down, almost, as much to fix it,” she said. “We just don’t have the money.”
Keas indicates it will take a village to save it though.
“Bea is spearheading this,” she said, “but I think we need the community to rally around her and be part of this.”
Costly to save
Commercial Builders, 2717 Canal Blvd., which has experience with historic buildings and preservation, gave Reif a rough quote of $164,000 to take down the crumbling wall and repair it, gut the inside, and replace the roof.
The hope is that’s the best alternative.
“Whenever you’re doing work whether construction or demolition and you have buildings that are attached, there’s always concern,” Mesecher said. “The governing body would be incredibly supportive of any business that would like to come in and start up and if we have a location that would be accessible for someone that would be great. And for folks here, it’s an historic thing. People grew up with different businesses in there and they know that, and it’s part of the history of the town. If it could be saved in any way, I just know the residents would be thrilled for that.”
Whether the city can kick-in any money isn’t known, he said.
“That would be up to the city council,” said Mesecher.
Meanwhile, Reif is hoping for donations to the fund.
“There’s opportunities and there’s things that we can do after we get them fixed,” said Reif. “I can’t do anything until they’re fixed, and that’s why we need the community’s help.”