August 6, 2013

The right fitCity officials continue search to fill Hyde Park’s Gillham Park building

The Paul Mesner Puppets abandoned plans to move into the structure, which was built in the early 1900s.

A Gillham Park maintenance building at 39th Street and Gillham Road remains vacant, its roof dotted with holes, its insides in need of much repair.

The quest continues to find a suitable tenant for the historic property after one interested party backed out this spring, and city parks officials received only one other proposal in its most recent search.

One challenge facing a would-be occupant is the work it would take to restore the building according to its historic features, say those close to the situation.

Local architect Adriance Van Brunt designed the stone structure in 1904, and it was constructed in the next few years. Horses were housed there, as were tools and offices. It was a maintenance building. By 1915 the building could accommodate automobiles and trucks.

The parks department didn’t fully move out of the building until about 18 months ago, said Forest Decker, natural resources manager.

Any renovation project would have to keep the historic structure components intact.

“It’s the interior that needs a lot of work,” Decker said.

And the clock is ticking.

“We’re concerned with the repairs that are needed to keep it in good shape,” said Gene Morgan, second vice president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. “When you don’t have a tenant, it doesn’t take long for the elements to take their toll.”

A setback

Neighborhood residents and park officials thought their search was over when the Paul Mesner Puppets sought approval for a repurposing project estimated at $8 million.

But the company backed out of the plan a few months ago.

“It was going to cost more than we thought, and the original concept was going to be outside our range in terms of what our consultant thought we could raise,” said Bill Prenevost, Mesner executive director.

The larger picture was that parks officials and others are working toward historic landmark status for the building he said.

Restoring the building to that level provides “only so many practical things you can do with a space like that,” Prenevost said.

What’s next

Park officials were considering another proposal this week, but no decision has been announced on whether to move forward with that plan. Until that announcement is made, Decker said, he can’t name the potential tenant.

The next park board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 13. Decker said that if the current proposal is recommended, it would be passed along by meeting time.

“Any time you enter into an agreement you are going to have a lot of what-ifs,” he said. “We are trying not to jump into it too lightly.”

Meanwhile, the grounds are being used as a staging area for the installation of Google fiber in nearby neighborhoods.

Prenevost’s advice to anyone else pursuing the building is to be educated about the landmark requirements from the start.

“There seems to be genuine interest to find someone who has a viable plan,” he said. “There is hope that there is the right kind of entity to make something happen and (it) be good for the community.”

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