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Council members see damage during Butler tour

September 14, 2012
By MARY ANN GREIER - Staff Writer ( , Salem News

SALEM - Salem Community Foundation officials are hoping to stave off further damage to the Butler Museum of American Art building, while city officials await court action regarding the TanFastic building next door.

The conditions of the two buildings on State Street in the heart of downtown Salem have been intertwined for several years now, with falling bricks from the TanFastic building damaging the Butler building and leading to the museum's closure.

The museum made repairs with insurance money and the insurance company went after the TanFastic building owners in court, but more damage occurred and the museum closed again. The TanFastic tanning business was forced to shut down due to the conditions.

The TanFastic building owners had been ordered to fix the problems, with the city eventually taking court action against them. In February, an agreement had been reached for the owners to make repairs, but no work was completed and now they're going back to court. Earlier this summer, the city had to shut down the sidewalk and close some parking spots in front of the buildings due to falling bricks.

City council members toured the Butler museum building earlier this week, seeing for themselves the damage caused. Salem Community Foundation President John Tonti said the tours came about after he and Council President Mickey Cope Weaver had a conversation at some recent function.

He said there's major water damage and mold, with not one area he could identify that has not been affected by the water coming in through the walls. He recently secured a quote from a company to make some repairs. He declined to give the amount of the quote, but admitted it's thousands of dollars just for clean up.

He was told by a representative of the company, "if we do nothing, I'm afraid you'll lose the building completely."

The basement always used to be dry, but that's no longer the case. Carpets are still wet, floors are still wet, there's damage to dry wall and ceiling tiles and water is getting in from the outside, he thinks through the one wall.

He said he'll be talking to the insurance company about getting some work done to try to stabilize the damage. It won't make a big difference, but he's hoping they can contain the mold situation.

"I want to see our building back in the position it was before so we can bring the Butler back to the community," Tonti said.

He said he's disappointed in the way things have happened. He's had conversations with the city law director, the previous mayor and the current mayor and said it's good that council members took the tour.

During a recent Committee of the Whole meeting, there was discussion about trying to activate the defunct Community Improvement Corporation and trying to use the non-profit body as a means to have the TanFastic building rehabilitated, if that's possible. Nothing can be done, though, until the court makes some decisions.

Councilman Dave Nestic explained that the owners could donate the building to the CIC, which could try to get the financing for repairs and lease the building out or then sell it to buy additional properties. He said it's not positive that it can be pulled off, but it's an idea.

Councilman Jeff Cushman questioned whether council could just fund a demolition fund and take the building down, with Nestic pointing out the city can't do anything at this point because the city doesn't own it.

When interviewed earlier this week, Berlin talked about his idea regarding the CIC, noting an organization like that has more ability to access money for individuals or groups who want to rehabilitate a building.

Rather than having to take taxpayer money to demolish the TanFastic building, he said he would rather see someone buy the building and rehabilitate it. It may be too far gone at this point, but that would need to be determined.



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