State Sen. to repair Xenia building

Ohio State Sen. Chris Widener, who owns a vacant building in downtown Xenia that has been deemed unsafe, said Thursday he has reached an agreement with the city to repair the building and expects construction to start within the next couple of weeks.

The city banned occupancy in the former JC Penney building, 45 East Main Street, after a Jan. 10 inspection of the outside of the structure, according to emails, letters sent to Widener and inspection reports obtained by the newspaper this week.

The inspection is one of a series of checks the city began performing during the fall of 2013 to reduce the number of deteriorating and unsafe buildings and revitalize the city.

Widener, the second- highest ranking Republican in the Ohio Senate, reached an agreement with city after an hour-long meeting with Xenia city officials on Thursday.

“All of our goals, Mr. Widener’s and the city’s goal, is to get this building to a point where it can be leased out and be a productive building for the building owner and the city,” City Manager Jim Percival said.

Widener said he had an engineer complete a structural evaluation on the building within 48 hours of receiving a letter from the city this week that documented the building violations.

“A recommendation was made to do some work on the rear part of the building — an area of about 60 square-feet,” Widener said. “So we’ve already engaged a contractor to do that, and while he’s doing that we’ll work with city officials to review anything else that may need to be taken care of as well. As a building owner, we don’t want to have an unsafe building in downtown Xenia or anywhere.”

Widener purchased the 7,536 square-foot-structure on East Main Street in 1998 for $100,000, according to Greene County property records.

Widener’s building is one of 59 buildings in downtown Xenia that were inspected during 2013. Ninehad violations, according to city documents. The building owned by Widener is the only one that required “immediate safety measures,” according to the city manager’s office.

Signs and barriers were placed around the building following the Jan. 10 inspection that included Xenia planning and zoning, code enforcement and fire department employees. Workers have blocked off an area to the rear of the building as a safety zone, according to city documents.

“Even though there’s a sign on the door that says imminent danger, I don’t think there’s a danger to health or safety,” Widener said.

Widener, who founded WDC Group, LLC — a Springfield based architecture firm — said he had a structural engineer look at the building. Widener said the report completed by his engineer indicates “the overall building appears structurally sound and shows no signs of collapse.” The newspaper has not reviewed this report.

After the inspection, Xenia Fire Captain Brian Brennaman sent a letter to Widener, this week, outlining the building violations and ordering the state senator fix the building violations within seven days.

The same letter from the city fire department this week also references a July 24, 2013, fire inspection of the building which resulted in violations.

On Thursday, Widener said there also was discussion about inspection of the inside of the building, but no date has been set for the inside to be reinspected.

“I will make sure their issues from the past have been addressed and then we will set a time to do that,” Widener said.

Some downtown Xenia building owners said they had concerns about the building and they hoped that it could be preserved and rented to a tenant.

Timothy Sontag, who owns the Xenia Shoe and Leather building and business downtown, said Widener’s building is beautiful and he would like to see it preserved and maintained.

“And like a lot of old buildings there’s a lot of maintenance required,” Sontag said. “I would feel really sad and sorry if it got in such condition where it had to be torn down instead of repaired.”

Greg Bernitt who owns two buildings near the Widener property said he’s happy the city is taking action on unsafe buildings that are not up to code.

“If you’re not going to do anything with your property, pass it on to somebody who will do something with it to improve the downtown,” Bernitt said. “You just can’t let it deteriorate.”