Allen County Commissioners optimistic about new downtown administration building

LIMA — As Allen County Commissioners considered how to consolidate various county offices under one roof, prospects of remaining downtown were looking bleak for a long time, with commissioners beginning to resign to the idea of building a new facility in the vicinity of Commerce Parkway off St. Johns Road.

However, a recent meeting with Good Food Restaurants president John Heaphy is making the prospect of Allen County offices staying downtown not only feasible but also increasingly likely.

Heaphy is the owner of 237 N. Main St., formerly occupied by Hofeller, Hiatt and Clark men’s clothing store. According to Commissioner Brian Winegardner, Heaphy recently approached the commissioners about obtaining that property and parcels around it, including the brick building at 221 N. Main St., to build a new county administration facility, one which could hold such agencies as the county auditor, recorder, treasurer, buildings and grounds, coroner and the commissioners’ office, among others.

“If you can imagine from North Street to the alley where you go into Citizens National Bank and then back, there’s another north-south alley, it would definitely be that area,” Winegardner said. “We’re also trying to work with the city. There’s a small parking area on the west side of that alley across from the [Ohio] Theatre. We’re trying to work out a deal where maybe we can incorporate that.”

Working with that footprint could help with issues like parking so as to not put extra strain on available street parking, Winegardner said.

Winegardner also said that both Heaphy and city officials have been excellent partners in this endeavor.

“It sounds like a win-win for everybody,” he said. “Heaphy is great to work with and he truly has a passion for downtown Lima. He wants to see the downtown succeed, as well as Mayor [Sharetta] Smith.”

Negotiations are still ongoing for the purchase of the property, but on Thursday, a representative from the WDC Design Group met with county agencies to go over what needs each agency would have in a new space. According to Winegardner, the anticipated timeline for this project would see the design for the new building completed and ready for review by the end of July. If everything continues according to plan, a site survey would take place in August or September, with documentation completed over the winter, along with a request for bids. Pre-construction could then begin as early as March 2024 with the facility completed at the end of 2025 and agencies beginning to move into the new facility in 2026.

Winegardner is hopeful that keeping county agencies downtown will help in continuing efforts to revitalize the city’s downtown.

“With buildings like this, you’re going to see a lot more traffic,” he said. “I think that’s going to draw more potential shopping, maybe some smaller restaurants. I just see what the city’s been doing, what the Rotary’s been doing with the amphitheater and now this, I really think the downtown is turning in the right direction.”

While the final cost for acquiring the property as well as the cost for construction has not yet been determined, Winegardner said the majority of the cost will be covered by American Rescue Plan Act funds the county has received as well as capital funds received through the state casinos.