The concept of converting the city’s 110-year-old pump house overlooking the East Fork of the White River into a family-friendly restaurant/brew pub operated by a Columbus native who had become an internationally famous chef had tremendous appeal in a community that was remaking its downtown.
Unfortunately, 23 months to the day after a review panel gave a green light to chef Daniel Orr to begin developing FARMBrew Columbus, the plan remains a concept, and the historic city-owned building remains empty.
Appealing as the plan might have been, it is time for the city to move forward and seek new approaches on how the former home of the Bartholomew County Senior Center can best be utilized.
The building has a lot going for it. It is an ideal location and presents a vista of the river that adds to its marketability. It has history. Its architect was Harrison Albright, who several years later would design the famed West Baden Springs Hotel in southern Indiana.
It powered the city’s utilities for years after it was opened in 1903. When that role ended, it sat empty and was converted into a makeshift studio for artist Jean Tinguely, where he shaped the “Chaos” sculpture that still graces The Commons. Most Columbus residents associate it with Senior Center Services, which occupied the building until two years ago when it moved into the newly constructed Mill Race Center.
The pump house certainly has potential. Although most of the ideas associated with its future use have been centered on restaurants, it can be adaptable for a number of other purposes, all of which could enhance the overall revitalization of the downtown area. But for its full potential to be realized, it is imperative that the city continue to move forward on plans to seek new tenants and uses.
One critical factor is the condition. Its status is virtually unchanged from the time the senior center was moved. That lack of attention has had an effect.
A February inspection of the interior by the city’s maintenance staff and parks department workers found problems, including gutters pulling away from the roof edge; a missing downspout; doors in bad shape; missing shingles; a broken window; mud dauber nests around the window; damage to a corner of a load-bearing wall; horizontal cracks in a small building addition; a hole in the building, possibly from an animal; and no heat or air conditioning in use.
Without corrective action that list will grow longer. The pump house is too important a community asset to allow this deterioration to continue.
Whatever its future use might be, it must be readied for that use now ... before it’s too late.