POINT PLEASANT — Point Pleasant City Council met this week, discussing a plan of action for the Mitchell-Nease-Hartley building, known to a more recent generation as the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center building located in the 100-block of Main Street.
The council members in attendance were Charles Towner, Janet Hartley, Gabe Roush, Jerrie Howard, Pat Sallaz, Brad Deal, and Rick Simpkins along with Mayor Brian Billings, City Clerk Amber Tatterson, and City Inspector Randy Hall.
City Attorney Michael Shaw made a motion to withdraw the previous motion he had made to put the matter of the river museum’s rebuilding plans before the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) which would, in essence, go forth with what council previously approved in the February meeting to go forward with the contract with Burgess and Niple which will, in essence, cause the building to be demolished. The motion carried with yes votes from Towner, Hartley, Roush, Deal, Sallaz, and Simpkins with a no from Howard.
River Museum Director Jack Fowler, his fellow river museum staff, and the river museum board of directors were in attendance as well as citizens for and against the demolition of the Mitchell-Nease-Hartley building.
Aminah Carroll commented, “The river museum is one of the best museums that I’ve ever been to and the spirit of the river is in that museum…now I think there’s a time when things like antiques and things like buildings have to be let go, they have to be let go because they are worn out and can no longer be made to do, the important thing is the people who preserve the collective memory…if we don’t move soon to address the problem with the building and try to preserve the museum itself using the collective knowledge and the years of experience over two decades that these folks have working with the people from the river, on the river, and coming to the building and just being there, being present, then what we’re going to lose is something that is truly valuable and much more valuable than the building itself.”
Fowler explained the river museum has had a tremendous effect on Main Street in Point Pleasant and commented he was against hiring a third historical engineer to inspect the building as two engineers have already deemed the structure unsafe and unable to rehab. He shared should the council choose to rehab the building, he would not have his river museum items in that building, but would have a new river museum in a different location. The consensus of Fowler, his fellow river museum staff, and the river museum board of directors is to keep the river museum in its current location, but with a new building.
“We’ve contributed a great deal to Main Street, as a matter of fact, in checking our records we’ve put over 100,000 people on Main Street…we also have a tremendous investment in that building,” said Fowler. “The museum as I’ve said before is more than a museum, people come there to see artifacts and experience the simulator and all, but it’s the school children.”
Fowler then talked about those children returning with their families to the river museum and other attractions downtown.
“There’s one thing the city does not need, they don’t need an old, soft brick empty building sitting down here at the end of Main Street,” said Fowler.
Though the consensus of those in discussion at the council meeting is to continue having a river museum on Main Street, the council does have an ordinance which addresses these sorts of matters and the members of the HLC recently requested the city hire a third historical engineer to inspect the building and see if the building could be rehabbed. Chris Rizer, president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, asked if the council would consider following through with the HLC’s recommendation as it does state in the city’s own ordinance they should adhere to the HLC in matters such as this. He also suggested the option of using an empty lot on Main Street for a new river museum, but keeping the old building and rehabbing that building. The city could utilize tax credits to help with the cost, he stated. The city could also still utilize the river museum’s insurance money.
Shaw explained by looking at the current city ordinance regarding this situation, one can see that this current situation between the council and the HLC was never contemplated wherein the city would have to regard the HLC in the case of what is to be done with a historic building. If a lawsuit were to happen, the case would be a city vs. city suit as the appointed city council members, who created the HLC are being “bucked,” according to Shaw, by this same committee on an issue the council had already approved.
In February, the council approved the contract plan with Burgess and Niple. Shaw stated he wanted to withdraw his earlier motion from a past council meeting to put the matter of the river museum’s rebuilding plans in front of the HLC as he feels it is not appropriate in this case as the city council is the governing body over the HLC which would put the original contract with Burgess and Niple back in place.
Howard responded she feels the city still needs to follow its own ordinance and not be held above it. Also, she feels the council needs to support the HLC and support the historic district.
Rizer added the HLC should have been consulted much earlier for their input and if that would have happened then this project would be past this point with the city still adhering to their own ordinance. He also commented with the city not abiding by their ordinance and exempting themselves from it, they are not following equal protection under the law.
“Back in my younger days I spent 12 years in your seats and I can’t recall we ever had a gut wrenching decision as you all were faced with and I’m sorry for that, but I thank you for your courage and we’ll try to justify your confidence as we move forward,” said Fowler.
Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.