The right side of history

Downtown Troy’s resurgence is a tribute to the resilience and relevance of its historic downtown buildings. Just as obvious as the economic success of our historic downtown, however, is the brokenness of our city’s process for protecting it.

A large building on West Main Street symbolizes these failures. The owner of 112-118 W. Main St. has gamed the city’s demolition process. City staff have taken the owner’s case for demolition at face value with little due diligence. Public records show city officials have even encouraged the property owner to omit key information, including insurance proceeds from a tornado that hit the building in January 2020. City leaders have dismissed the building’s historic significance as the Miami County courthouse from 1841 to 1888, repeating ridiculous claims about the “life span of bricks.” Mayor Robin Oda squandered an opportunity to be a uniting presence last month, instead provoking a public outcry when she said at a planning commission meeting that “the history of that building was destroyed in 1900 when the front of the courthouse was cut off.” In fact, the old courthouse is largely intact, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows building built in front of it along West Main Street is now 120 years old and the historic centerpiece of a block of century-old storefronts.

Now that two deals to purchase the building have fallen through, city officials have hesitated to proceed with code enforcement against the property owner, whose four other downtown properties include the largely vacant building that once housed the Brewery. Why is this property owner being treated differently? We don’t know for sure. But behind the scenes, city leaders in recent weeks have advocated for a boutique hotel, despite the risk that the idea, if it fails to pan out, would leave a large grassy lot along the most traveled route into Troy’s historic downtown – potentially for years. No doubt a hotel would be a wonderful amenity in downtown Troy – and there are far more suitable downtown locations for such a project.

The city’s planning commission is a body of mayoral appointees; of the seven members, only the mayor is elected. As early as this Monday, the commission might clear the path for demolition of the building – despite the applicant’s failure to meet the necessary criteria. A few days ago, Miami County even asked for the city to clarify erroneous statements that it has made about the building being declared an immediate danger to the public safety – the linchpin of the city’s unsubstantiated recommendation that the demolition be allowed to proceed.

This spectacle should embarrass anyone paying attention. And members of the Troy Historic Preservation Alliance are. For the past year, our grassroots group of local residents – advocating for the preservation, restoration, and repurposing of Troy’s historic downtown – has pushed tirelessly for a “win-win” resolution involving this building.

The Troy-Miami County Public Library has put forth a popular solution with its offer to purchase 112-118 W. Main St. Their innovative concept – a “technology library” – could save the building while addressing the property code issues that have remained unresolved for nearly two years and have kept the sidewalk along West Main Street closed. The library’s proposal is fiscally responsible, too. It would cost the library (and the community) millions of dollars less to fix up this building than it would to tear down the existing main library branch and build new (at a time when residents of the Troy City Schools district will likely be considering a request to help fund new schools). The library project also would be preferable to costly legal battles likely to erupt if demolition is approved.

To be fair, downtown would be less vibrant today were it not for the city’s long-time support of historic buildings in the form of low-interest loans and grants. And it is not just city officials who bear responsibility for the far too reactive state of historic preservation in downtown Troy. All of us have a role to play in rehabilitating downtown Troy’s culture of stewardship.

The path forward is obvious. The Planning Commission must reject this fatally flawed application for demolition. And city officials should join the Troy Historic Preservation Alliance and other downtown organizations in healing rifts, rebuilding trust, and making proactive, inclusive, community-minded decisions that are on the right side of history.