Former art center sale on hold

By Kelsey Kimbler -

EATON — When the Preble County Art Association (PCAA) constructed its first building, located at 601 Hillcrest Drive, it was built on Preble County-owned land under a lease which stated if the association ever abandoned the building, ownership would revert to Preble County.

However, the building was built with money raised by PCAA for the organization.

The original lease states, “The Lessee further convenants and agrees that if the building to be constructed on the leased premises is used by the Lessee other than for the purposes set forth herein, or if the Lessee suffers any violation of any building code then in effect in the City of Eaton, Preble County, Ohio, to remain uncured for a period of six months from date of notice of same, or should Lessee abandon the leased premises, then this lease shall be deemed terminated and of no further force and effect, and any buildings erected on the leased premises by Lessee shall become the property of Lessor.”

“In that lease — which was pretty much written on a napkin — it stated, if that building was ever given up and not used for art purposes, the building and land would revert back to the county. I am in the mindset of, back in the day that was a good deal for the commissioners, not such a good deal for the art center,” Commissioner Rodney Creech said.

According to PCAA Executive Director Vicky Fanberg, the organization is still using that building and have even discussed the use of the building in the future, if a deal cannot be made with the Preble County Board of Commissioners to auction the building or land.

Since PCAA moved to the new building on Main Street, there has been interest in purchasing the building on Hillcrest Drive. However, PCAA remains in a lease agreement with the Preble County Board Commissioners.

Commission Clerk Kim Keller said PCAA cannot currently sell the building, or it will be deemed they are not using the building for art purposes and ownership will revert to Preble County.

She added, the land and the building also cannot be sold separately. According to Keller, the property and land will have to go together in either an auction or out for bid. PCAA will have the opportunity to bid on both the property and the land. Commissioner Creech noted, they will be selling the property at land price only, since PCAA paid for construction of the building.

“Technically, in my view, they own the building, so we’re just selling land. The bid would technically be at land price — that is where it gets sticky,” Creech said.

However, PCAA will not technically own the building once it goes to auction. Preble County would own the entire lot — building and property — both because PCAA will not be technically using the building for art purposes in order to sell the building to anyone.

Keller stated, in order to sell the building, the lease between Preble County and PCAA will have to be terminated.

This means, technically, anyone can bid during the public auction. Keller added, normally the board awards the bid to the highest bidder, but they don’t have to. Another organization or individual could technically outbid the PCAA and buy the building and property out from under them. According to Keller, PCAA would get no profit from that sale, since it is against Ohio Revised Code for the Board of Commissioners to give money to PCAA.

Creech noted, they could technically reject the highest bid from an organization that is not PCAA if the board choose to do so, but it would have to go to a board vote first.

“They first have to release their hold on the building, that is the only way anything can happen,” Keller said.

However, Fanberg believes there is another way and the board should work with PCAA to find an outcome that would be beneficial to both parties.

“In 2018, some of my board members and myself had a meeting with Commissioner Rodney Creech and Marty Votel to see if there were options of what we can do [with the building on Hillcrest Drive]. We don’t need two buildings, but we don’t plan on abandoning the property — it is meaningful to the Art Association, because our donors paid money to build it and we used it for many years. We will not abandon it,” Fanberg said.

“That being said, we don’t need two buildings. Before we even purchased [the new building on Main Street], there were conversations with the commissioners on what we wanted to do, not formally, individually. They all said, ‘I’m sure we can work something out, when you know what you’re doing, come to us.’ So, we made movement based on that initial feedback. In 2018, we had a meeting with Rodney [Creech] and Marty [Votel]. We were told at that time that there were options to resolve it.

“It wasn’t just selling the land to us, the other option is the county could pay us for the building. That would be equivalent to improvement on the land — we did do something to that land to make it more valuable, it now has a building that has been maintained for the past 25 years or more. They have had other county agencies that have requested that building and they told those agencies no. They told us, they don’t have a use for the [Hillcrest Drive] building.

“Although, I would suspect it is still an option that they compensate us for the building and auction off the land and the building all by themselves. I think there are other options, but I think there has been some unwillingness to pursue what the solutions could be.”

According to Creech, the situation is on hold because of the current discussions with Preble County Board of Elections (BOE) and their lawsuit. If it is deemed the commissioners must find a different space for BOE — other than the courthouse — they want the Hillcrest Drive building as an affordable alternative.

“My focus this whole time has been to work with the art center, sell them the land, and let them sell the building. Everyone is free and clear of everything. While that occurred, the Board of Elections wanting to move out of the courthouse has wanted us to buy the building [on Hillcrest Drive],” he said.

“It is a nice building, it has been well kept. The county doesn’t want to purchase any more buildings. They are very expensive to buy and maintain. We were talking about different prices on the land and the process that would go along with it, but once the Board of Elections started discussing a lawsuit, we put it on hold. If we would happen to lose a lawsuit, we need a building for [BOE] to move into that would be affordable and nice.

“Technically, the art center has a buyer — I would love to see that building get moved off [PCAA’s] plate and I would love to see that building purchased, but the Board of Election’s lawsuit is going to put it on hold again.”

According to Fanberg, PCAA is willing to work with the Preble County Board of Commissioners to determine a way to resolve the situation. However, they are not planning on “abandoning” the Hillcrest Drive building anytime soon.

“We’re not going to walk away from the property and hand it over to the commissioners. We have plans — we spent the last month trying to clean it up inside from our move and get it repainted. We have some partnerships coming up to be able to use that space for additional art classes. Hopefully, we have some other plans that are coming together too, they’re just taking awhile to get rolling,” she said.

“It is not preferable — I don’t prefer to run two facilities, it is not needed when I think there are a lot of other organizations that would love to have that property. We’ve been approached by other organizations in the county who would love to have that property. It is disappointing that we approached the commissioners early on to see if there were options. We took on a major project with this new facility and a lot of that decision was contingent on what to do with Hillcrest.”

By Kelsey Kimbler

Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH

Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH