Historic Shoals building could receive grant

May 6—SHOALS — A long vacant, historic building in downtown Shoals could be getting a new life. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has announced a $75,000 federal landmark grant through the National Park Service to stabilize the Mohr Building in downtown Shoals.

The three story building was constructed in 1872 and has set empty for more than a decade.

"We have never worked with Shoals before. We are very excited that they came to us to participate in the program," said Malia Vanaman with INDNR. "The hope is we can assist with some of the stabilization that is required. They had originally applied to do some masonry rehabilitation because the building had been vacant for so long. We are looking at some other things. A new roof, gutters and downspouts, façade and things like that."

The grant would be based on a dollar-for-dollar match, so in order to get the maximum amount Shoals would have to come up with $75,000 as well.

"I don't know if $150,000 would be enough to get the building redone. A lot of time HPF funding acts as a catalyst toward additional investment to complete the work. We just want to get the building stabilized," said Vanaman.

The announcement of the grant is being met with less than total enthusiasm.

"I think it is remarkable that a community of 840 people are saving this building. So many people are excited that they are saving a building in downtown Shoals," said Jessica Potts, who sits on the committee working to save the Mohr building. "They are saving that building on a shoestring budget. In order to preserve it, you have to have certain windows, historic windows and those jack the price up so much. It is the same grant Daviess County is dealing with right now on the courthouse. Indiana Landmarks and the town of Shoals are still trying to come to an agreement."

The big question is the impact that covenants tied to the grant may have on the future work on the project. In Daviess County, a similar 15-year-covenant turned the effort to find affordable replacement windows into a struggle as the county rebuilt the courthouse. Shoals officials are concerned they might be walking into the same problem.

"The protective covenant is a requirement that goes with the federal funds. We want to make sure that funding helps with the ongoing rehabilitation. You do not want to invest in a new roof for the building and then two years later it is demolished. The covenant is not meant to be a prohibitive kind of restriction on the building. What we hope it does is set up a more collaborative relationship with our office so that if the town is doing additional work to the building that they are doing it in a way that is sympathetic to the historic features of the building."

"There is a local guy who grew up in Martin County and is talking about donating the roof and having the new roof on in 30 days," said Potts. "There is a window guy out of Louisville who offered to provide some windows at cost, but they aren't what Landmarks is suggesting which is double the price."

One of the potential hold-ups for the entire project is a lack of a final plan for the building. It could be turned into retail, housing, or office space or even a combination of those things.

"The issue is that we don't know what the end use of the building will be," said Potts. "It is one thing if it is a developer working on the building and creating two air BnB's on top and a retail space down below. That is not the case. The town's goal is to get the building stabilized and then sell it to a developer and have something great go in there."

"It is always helpful to have an end-use but it is not required. The HPF is about stabilizing the building until those decisions are made," said Vanaman. "The end use is up to the community. We are not here to make the decision for the use of the building."

State and federal officials are having the final talks before the grant is formally awarded. Once the town accepts the money the project needs to be done in two years.

"We are always happy to speak with them and answer any questions they have," said Vanaman.

"The small businesses downtown are really excited about the prospect of the project being done," said Potts. "It's a miracle the town is trying to save that building. If they don't save it then it becomes a giant hole in the downtown."

Even a giant hole comes with a price tag. Officials have received an estimate to tear down the building at a minimum of $250,000.