- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) - A 140-year-old building nestled in the heart of Main Street in Vincennes is at risk of being lost forever unless its owner and both local and state historic preservation groups can come together to save it.

It’s been five months since city officials condemned the Heberd Building, 320 Main St., and asked its tenants, Legends Family and Hobby Games, to leave.

City officials claim a rear exterior wall is separating from the main building, built in 1873, and poses a risk to passers-by as well as anyone inside the building.

However, owner Tim Ellerman, a local contractor, has said he’s made the proper temporary repairs and that any concern for the public’s safety is unfounded.

Still, a final resolution, all agree, is yet to be found.

“We are very concerned because we consider this to be an outstanding building with an impressive history,” Judy Kratzner, president of the Vincennes/Knox County Preservation Foundation, told the Vincennes Sun-Commercial (http://bit.ly/1hBQZX3 ). “We don’t want to see it lost.”

The city, the preservation foundation and Indiana Landmarks, the state’s leading historic preservation group, have come together to get the restoration process going.

But all of it has gone on with little, if any, involvement from Ellerman. He says that’s because no one has attempted to get in touch with him.

Months ago, the city inspector, on behalf of the preservation foundation, asked Tommy Kleckner, a director with Indiana Landmarks, to fund a $3,000 assessment study of the building that would outline exactly what needs to be done to make it structurally sound.

Last spring, Ellerman poured concrete footings and installed steel I-beams to shore the failing rear wall up.

City officials say that is only a temporary fix, and not a great one at that.

“I haven’t figured out what (the city) wants to accomplish,” Ellerman said. “That building isn’t going to fall down on its own. I think that’s been proven by the fact that it’s still standing.”

Both Kratzner and Kleckner say the assessment did get underway but, so far, it’s only half complete. Arsee Engineers Inc., based in Fishers, was hired to do the work, Kratzner said, but was only able to inspect the building from the outside.

They weren’t able to gain access to the interior. Ellerman said no one has called him to make the request.

Kleckner said this week that the “next step in the process” would be to get in touch with Ellerman and make arrangements to complete the assessment.

Currently, there are two schools of thought about the structure. Originally, the building had a rear staircase; it was removed decades ago. It’s possible, Kleckner said, that the rear wall was left unstable and has crumbled because the support the staircase once provided is now gone.

The other, and more costly, possibility is that the building's foundation is failing. But a determination can’t be made until crews with Arsee can get inside the building.

Ellerman said he has had at least two people contact him about buying the building, and that each are interested in seeing it restored. Ellerman is as well, but he says he simply doesn’t have the time to invest in the project.

He also said he would be willing to work with any historic preservationist group interested in taking the project on financially.

Other than that, he said, the building is “just sitting the way the city left it.”

“With it being vacant, it’s going to deteriorate three times as fast,” he said.

Ellerman also said he “isn’t interested in tearing it down,” because it would too greatly affect the structural integrity of the buildings next to it.

Kratzner said it’s way too soon to say whether the local preservation foundation group would be interested in taking the project on financially, even with help from Indiana Landmarks in the way of further grants.

Years ago, the foundation bought the Dale House, a 1910 American foursquare at 524 N. Second St., and even with a $50,000 grant from Indiana Landmarks to get started, it still took a decade and several thousand more dollars to see the restoration process finished.

But she says the group will continue to stay in close touch with Kleckner, whom they hope will act as a liaison between themselves and Ellerman.

“The members of our group have really left it up to Tommy to get inside and finish the assessment,” she said. “He is the most knowledgeable person for a project like this, and he knows what kind of financial resources might be available to help whomever tries to take it on.

“For us to would be a major undertaking, and I just can’t say whether we would try or not. Regardless, we need that report first. Otherwise, we don’t know what we’d be getting into. Nobody does.”

The problems associated with the Heberd Building started in 2010 when it was owned by Travis Tarrants, who also once controlled the Pantheon Theatre.

Former city inspector Chris Eisenhut noticed the rear wall was buckling so he ordered the alley closed to traffic. Those barricades are still in place today.

Tarrants hired Ellerman’s construction company to repair the building’s roof - it was damaged in a storm years ago - but when Tarrants couldn’t pay for the work, Ellerman took him to court. Two years later Ellerman ended up with the building as a part of a court-ordered judgment.

Constructed in the Italianate style of architecture, the Heberd Building is listed as “outstanding” in the “Knox County Interim Report,” which was published in 1997 as an inventory of sorts of the city’s historic structures.

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Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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