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City sees landmark as possible attraction


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Columbus plans to sell its historic Pump House to a private investor — someone who is willing to invest millions to transform it into a riverfront tourist destination.

But before the sale, the Columbus Redevelopment Commission wants the 1.8-acre property at 148 Lindsey St. rezoned to a more limited use, to ensure that the future buyer would be buying into what the city envisions for the riverfront area. That vision is something that the entire community could enjoy — a signature tourist draw that would enhance the downtown’s attractions, Mayor Kristen Brown said.

The Columbus Plan Commission will consider the rezoning at 4 p.m. today, and then the proposal moves to the Columbus City Council for approval.

The Pump House property, sometimes referred to as the Power House property, was built in 1901 as a city water plant near downtown Columbus along East Fork White River. It was designed by nationally recognized architect Harrison Albright and is listed as eligible to be included in the National Register of Historic Places. Albright is the same architect who designed the West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick.

Until 1951, the Pump House pumped water from the river for domestic use and produced electricity for streetlights. It is believed to be the third water works building to be placed on the site.

The city sold the property in 1952 and it was renovated by the Southern Machine Co. In 1976, it was renovated for a senior center after it had been purchased by the city’s redevelopment commission. When the new Mill Race Center opened in 2011, city officials began looking for a new use for the property.

City officials thought they had found it with a proposal from chef Daniel Orr, who signed a $100-a-month lease in July 2011 to convert the facility to a restaurant and brewpub. However, the city terminated the lease in April 2013 after Orr failed to make progress on the project. The property has been vacant since 2011, said Heather Pope, city redevelopment director.

At least six private investors have indicated they might be interested in buying the property, Brown said. However, city officials caution that the buyer must be willing to invest around $2.5 million in the interior to bring the building to a usable state. The property has not been significantly remodeled or upgraded in nearly 40 years, and rehabilitation would be required, according to an independent appraisal that city officials commissioned.

Brown emphasized selling the Pump House is not about making money for the city.

“It’s about having a community asset restored and open for public use, using private investment to do this,” she said.

The city is not interested in being a landlord to whatever use might be selected for the property, but is interested in maintaining the property’s historic value to the city, she said.

The city also plans to require that the building’s historical exterior remain intact through easement enforcement with Indiana Landmarks, with exterior improvements required to meet the federal Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The overall goal would be to identify, retain and preserve the historic aspects of the building, Brown said. The building is classified as Neo-classical revival style, with 15,730 square feet of space.

A condition assessment commissioned by the city indicates the extent of repairs required would be:

The roof needs to be replaced.

The building has inefficient single-pane windows that do not open.

It has handicap-accessibility issues.

It is unknown whether the heating or air conditioning works.

Lighting in the building is described as outdated and inefficient.

All of the interior walls and floors are worn and outdated.

Despite all that, and the millions in renovation costs, Pope believes the property could fit perfectly adjacent to the downtown’s civic and entertainment district, within easy walking distance to downtown shops and entertainment. Future plans on the drawing board call for the People Trails to have an easement through the area, Pope said.

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