Former Crowell-Collier building owner dies

Denune, who fought city hall for years, remembered by Hartley for his good deeds.

Harry C. Denune, a local businessman who owned the massive Crowell-Collier Building for more than 40 years, died on Tuesday in Gainesville, Fla., at the age of 90.

A service is planned at 2 p.m. today at the First Advent Christian Church in Lake City, Fla.

Denune purchased the Crowell-Collier building in 1972, nearly two decades after the publishing business closed in 1956. Over the years, two fires broke out there and the city repeatedly padlocked the building and declared it unsafe after inspections found code violations.

He and his company, Dixie Distributing Co., a wholesale motorcycle parts supplier he operated for 62 years, also at one time owned several large industrial buildings in Springfield.

Denune was born in Columbus, where he graduated from Ohio State University with an accounting degree. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946.

Clark County Commissioner David Hartley, who worked for Denune over the years, called him “a true friend of the Springfield and Clark County community.”

Hartley said when he served as Interfaith Hospitality Network’s executive director, Denune would volunteer his time and do “whatever I needed.”

“He did so much that so few know about,” Hartley said.

Shannon Meadows, the city’s community development director, said despite their differing opinions on property maintenance, Denune was always a gentleman.

“No one would ever question his gentleman-like personality,” Meadows said. “He was just a very polished person when it came to his personal interaction with me or any of my staff. He was a unique individual. I send my condolences to his family.”

Denune fought the city and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for years over allegations concerning both the condition of his buildings and the contents inside.

Denune owned several buildings in Springfield, including the old Kelsey-Hays factory, 1205 W. Columbia St., and the former Sears building, 21-29 E. High St.

In 2002, the city razed the former Leffel plant that Denune’s PALCO Investment Co. owned on East Street. Denune contested the ordered demolition for years, appealing the case to the Ohio Supreme Court and federal district courts. The case is still ongoing and will continue to be pursued by the city, according to Springfield law director Jerry Strozdas.

The city also fought with Denune over the conditions at the Crowell-Collier Building since 1999, when a massive fire engulfed the structure. Loose bricks fell from the structure in 2009, while another fire broke out at the padlocked building in 2011.

The building was sold to Mosier Industrial Services in October of 2011 for $1.5 million, although Denune still had inventory from his motorcycle business left inside. Mosier also purchased the former Cooper Energy site on Sheridan Avenue, which Denune had owned.

In 1988, the Ohio EPA said Denune was moving trailers with transformers and other hazardous materials. He was convicted in 1991 on illegal transportation and seven other offenses regarding the hazardous waste, but the conviction was overturned in 1992 by a state appellate court because the EPA illegally entered one of the trailers.

Denune turned 90 in December, and Hartley went to Florida to visit him.

“I’m so glad I visited him,” Hartley said. “It’s very sad for me.”

“He was a great guy and a great person for this community,” Hartley said.

According to his obituary, donations can be made to Florida Sheriff Youth Ranches Inc., P.O. Box 2000, Boys Ranch, Florida 32064.

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