Joint effort to raze TanFastic eyed

SALEM – The court case regarding the former TanFastic building in downtown Salem appears settled, but a determination regarding the building’s future remains pending, with a joint effort for demolition a possibility.

Salem City Law Director Brooke Zellers said Thursday that everybody had dropped their counterclaims and crossclaims, building owners Timothy and Deborah Smith were expected to accept judgment against them and “then all of the parties are going to work together to try to demolish the building.”

The case was set to go to trial in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court on Thursday, but was canceled due to a pending agreement.

Zellers explained that the pending court settlement will include an order for the Smiths to either tear down or repair the building located on East State Street, which is the same judgment that had been issued in February 2012 before the case was reopened in September 2012 when no progress was made.

“It appears to be beyond repair at this point – that leaves demolition. We’re hoping to resolve this by some joint action of the parties,” Zellers said, noting they would have to get a current estimate for the cost of demolition. “The fate of the land would have to be decided as part of the agreement.”

Depending on what’s decided for the building, he said it “may have to come before council before it can be formalized.”

He couldn’t go into detail about any proposal, but said he intends to speak to Salem City Council about it behind closed doors during executive session, possibly at the next meeting.

As for the building next door which used to house a branch of the Butler Museum of American Art, Zellers said the hope is that it will be repaired and the museum reopened. The building is owned by the Salem Art Institute and maintained with funds administered by the Salem Community Foundation.

Brian Macala, attorney for the Smiths, confirmed that there’s a preliminary settlement, but said he couldn’t talk about the terms and conditions just yet. He said the Salem Art Institute agreed to drop all claims against the Smiths and the city of Salem and the Smiths dropped their claim against the Salem Art Institute.

He said the only outstanding issue is relative to the status of the former TanFastic building.

“We believe we’ve reached a fair resolution to handle that matter,” he said, adding it will be “something to clear up an eyesore in the city. Hopefully this will bring it to an end.”

Last year when asked about the case, Macala said his clients were more than willing to cooperate and do what was best for the community. In talking then about possible costs for demolition and asbestos removal if necessary, he said they didn’t have that kind of money.

The Smiths were first sued over the building in June 2009 by the Butler Institute of American Art and the insurer for the Butler building for damages caused by falling bricks. The museum had been closed since June 2008, reopened briefly in 2010 and then reclosed when more damage occurred. The building has been closed since then.

The Smiths were cited by the city fire department in November 2010 regarding their building’s conditions, then the city filed the lawsuit in April 2011.

Macala was told that the west wall causing the problems may be a shared wall between the two buildings, leading to the third-party claim he filed against the Salem Art Institute which is now dismissed. The Salem Art Institute countersued, saying the wall belonged to the Smiths, and also named the city as a defendant for failing to abate the issue. Those claims have also been dismissed.

Mark Hutson, the attorney representing the Salem Art Institute, also confirmed that the the claims he filed were dismissed and the third-party complaint filed by the Smiths against his client had been dismissed with no finding as to the existence of a common wall. He said the matter appears to be back to the original two parties, the Smiths and the city.

According to Hutson, the Salem Art Institute would not stand in the way of any resolution for the repair or demolition of the former TanFastic building. He said “the status of the former branch of the Butler depends upon the building next to it.”

His client housed an art museum that was an asset to the city of Salem and the whole county. The museum closed its doors due to damage from the falling bricks from the former TanFastic building.

“Unless and until that building gets repaired or demolished, it’s difficult to continue to repair the Salem Art Institute building,” he said, adding that his client would love to see its own building used for its intended purpose to house art.

During a city council meeting last fall, downtown building owner Scott Cahill had announced a deal was pending for him to possibly purchase the former Butler building. According to the Columbiana County Auditor’s property search website, the Salem Art Institute remains the owner.

When asked about it, Hutson said that to his knowledge, there is no pending real estate deal at this time.