The City of Xenia may have the catalyst it needs to revitalize the economy after a mile-wide tornado decimated one quarter of the city in decades past. The historic Eavey building has sold in an absolute auction to a private investor and the city is ready to make something special happen out of the century-old building.
Eleven bidders at the on-site auction began with no minimum purchase price. Two of the bidders participated over the telephone in the May 14 auction. The final bid for the sale was $65,700, according to Allison Moody, VP of Marketing at Dayton Commercial Realty.
The 100,000 square foot historic building sits on the northwest corner of West Third Street and State Route 68 (South Detroit Street) beside the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail and within close proximity to U.S. 35 and Interstate 71.
“This is a unique structure in downtown. It’s a beautiful building and the city would really like to see something spectacular happen here, and I think something can happen,” said Steve Brodsky, development director of the City of Xenia.
A lot of businesses and economic growth was swept away when the 1974 F5 tornado barrelled through Xenia, killing 33 people and destroying more than 300 homes. It remains the 8th costliest tornado in US recorded history, at a cost of over $1 billion with adjusted price inflation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A second tornado, an F4 in 2000, again destroyed businesses and homes throughout Xenia.
But despite these natural disasters the historic Eavey building suffered only minor roof damage and now city developers are hoping a revitalization to the building will help to strengthen the close-knit community and struggling economy.
The historic Eavey building originally opened in 1908 and received grocer’s freight off the railroad for regional food distribution. Today that rail line has been converted—a freight railroad no longer chugs through downtown—into the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail that passes by the Eavey building north through the center of Xenia toward Yellow Springs.
In the building’s hay-day bananas would have sat coolly in the banana ripening room. Butchered meat hung from steel hooks inside cork-insulated refrigerator rooms. Packaged cakes would have been loaded from the docks into Eavey Company delivery trucks. It was a bustling full-scale food production and distribution center, serving more than 150 retailers in Ohio until the 1960s when the Eavey Company merged with SuperValu Foods Inc.
Right now the building is vacant. Intact, original building features are impressive: steel beams and concrete pillars support the three-story exposed brick façade with south-facing, solar passive windows that give easily to natural light. Three built-in vintage industrial freight elevators saddle an underground parking garage.
Framing the building’s renovation potential are boastful upper floors providing ample room and panoramic views of Xenia and the Greene County courthouse. The Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail is a central highlight seen from the upper floors as it cuts through downtown.
“We see that building as potentially a catalyst for revitalization in our downtown. It’s a tremendous opportunity. Not a lot of buildings out there like that. At the same time it’s going to be a challenge. That building is large. It’s going to require a lot of time and money, possibly some assistance from the city and some public participation,” said Brian Forschner, city planner for the City of Xenia.
Redevelopment of the Eavey building aligns with the strategic City of Xenia Brownfield Action Plan in redeveloping the 108-acre area around downtown, with a priority focus around the regional bike trail connector hub.
“We have the bike path, which we haven’t taken full advantage of yet. We’ve got four bike trails that intersect in the middle of Xenia. It’s just a block south of the Eavey building. We received a grant to put in protected bike lanes that would go up from the Eavey building to where the path picks up again by Church Street to be more of a bike-friendly type of area,” said Forschner.
Forschner said the city can assist in retaining state and federal tax abatements and other grants that will help with the revitalization of the historic building.
“We know for this new owner it’s going to be a challenge to get the building up and running,” said Forschner.
“It’s not going to be easy. We know it’s going to take some time and obviously some money, but we want to help support the efforts and revitalize this as part of our overall downtown revitalization,” said Brodsky.
“We are optimistic. We look forward to working with the new owner on rehabilitation of the building and a project that will be a catalyst for downtown,” said Forschner.
And downtown residents are excited about the historic building’s potential.
Henry Davenport lives nearby the historic building and said he remembers when the freight train ran next to the Eavey building in 1951.
“There was a set of tracks that would go right up next to those docks. I call them sideline tracks, where they went down and dead-ended where they could make deliveries. And then after they made the deliveries, they would pull up and switch tracks and put them back on the main track and go right up through the heart of town,” said Davenport. “It was very active. I just stood and watched—we were young then, you know how kids are.”
Davenport said he thinks the effort to rehabilitate the historic Eavey building is an excellent idea because “the city, it needs more revitalization like that since the tornado.”
“When the tornado came through… it just about destroyed Xenia. They did a lot of rebuilding. Destroyed hundreds of homes,” said Davenport.
Justine Vraniak lives around the corner from the historic Eavey building and frequently walks her dog on the bike path.
“I think that [rehabilitation of the Eavey building] would be a great idea. This is the bike hub of the midwest. It’s a beautiful bike path that heads to Yellow Springs and to Cincinnati. I think it would bring a little hope to the area. When the tornado hit, things went downhill, but Xenia is full of genuine people,” said Vraniak.
“The tornado had a tremendous impact on the community. I think it left a little of a scar on the economy. We’ve had some economic struggles as well with the recession, but I think at this point we are poised for growth and revitalization, and we have a lot of exciting things going on and we think this building can be a part of it,” said Forschner.
Considering its age, Moody said the historic building will last the ages with its steel-reinforced concrete floors and pillars.
“It’s built like a fortress. It’s in really good condition. I think it would withstand the next Xenia tornado,” said Moody.
According to Moody, the property sale is scheduled to close June 18.
No further information about the new owner was available as of press time.
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton.