Monday, November 14, 2016

Eyesores or Holes? The Martings Conundrum


November has delivered its share of rocky headlines, and the month is not over yet. The latest news is old news with a disturbing, yet not entirely unexpected twist. Back in full public disclosure is the albatross on Chillicothe Street – the infamous city-owned Martings Building. The city is desperate to hand over the keys to someone … anyone else.

Location, location, location. What is a department store structure in the now largely deserted downtown of Portsmouth worth? (I read that the Martings building was originally built in 1883.)
After all, no one has bought the building although the city has desperately tried to rid itself of the aging property for nearly a decade. It seems a new appraisal was initiated because “a client” had interest in buying it for “a retail establishment.” So, in hopes of selling, the city believed it needed as estimate of worth.

The Daily Times reported the city hired the Robert Weiler Company to appraise the property. The result? It was appraised at one-tenth of the $2 million that the city paid for it in 2002 It is now worth $215,000.

The Daily Times offered a time-line of appraisals on the property:

“A history of appraisals goes back to May 1996 when a Hillsboro, Ohio company – Rittenhouse and Associates, valued the building at $2,386,000 in their first of two appraisals. In December 2001, John Kizer appraised the building at $762,000. In 2002, Ken Rase valued the property at $1,850,000. Rittenhouse and Associates’s second appraisal of 2002 came in at $2,469,000.

“Those figures came from an online blog titled “Follow the Money: a History of the Marting’s Scandal,” written by Andrew Lee Feight, PHD.”

(Frank Lewis. “Marting’s Building appraised at $215,000.” Portsmouth Daily Times.
November 14, 2016.)

Naturally, the Martings building contains asbestos, out-of-date wiring, and a host of other problems as it sits in its current state of disrepair. City Manager Allen said estimates at tearing down the structure several years ago came in at around $750,000, but he was worried about creating “a hole” in the downtown collection of empty and aging buildings. This presents a no-win dilemma – the taxpayers of Portsmouth can continue to own either a crumbling monstrosity with little or no market value or a hollow space requiring more considerably expensive investment.

And, it seems one controversy can be put to rest. Allen said there are no intentions of moving city hall there. In fact, the city has no plans at all for their colossal, empty edifice. Hmm, could it be the city bought this property without any consideration? After all, voters rejected the investment for its “planned” use a long time ago.

The Daily Times reported that Allen said, “I just don’t think the city ought to be owning all these properties. We’re not doing anything with them and we have already shown that we’re not very good landlords.”

This requires the cliché response often used to support investigatory claims these days: “No ordure, Sherlock.” But, no one can blame the city manager since he wasn't here for the underhanded Martings purchase.

This opinion is supported by a complete study a couple of years ago conducted by the Daily Times of all the properties owned by the city. The paper found many of those properties were in total disrepair. The news continues to confirm time adds to the decay and decreasing value.

I believe it is obvious that the city made a huge mistake buying the Martings property. It is time for everyone to own up to this misapplication and stop speculating that some business tycoon like Donald Trump will roll into town and renovate the property as part of his “Make America Great Again” campaign.

The reality is that the city owns … no, we, the citizens of Portsmouth own … a huge chunk of atrophied real estate. That same city has an initiative asking citizens to beautify and improve private property. The requirements for residents and their properties should apply to the City of Portsmouth – get rid of eyesores and dangerous, old structures. Evidently, the mandate does not presently refer to real estate owned by the city. They own ever-depreciating properties. They must carry out needed improvements. Fix the real estate.

How bothersome is the “no plans” approach? How much did the new appraisal cost? How long will the Martings structure and other properties in disrepair hamstring the city? Your guess is as good as mine. Let this be a reminder that ill-advised, half-baked ideas can leave permanent scars. And, let this be a reminder that speculation done with the heart, not with the mind, of a return to prosperous past is full of risks. Look at what we own and at what we owe.

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