Butler effort may be futile

LISBON – Years of citations by the city of Salem and litigation in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court may come to an end regarding the deteriorating Tan-Fastic building falling onto the former Butler Art Institute.

Whether the problems can be solved remains unknown.

The case is scheduled for a trial in November and the three parties along with their attorneys continued to meet Friday at the courthouse.

However, in a third-party pretrial statement, attorney Mark Hutson, representing the Salem Art Institute, which used to lease the building to the Butler, noted there are concerns any court resolution will fix the problem.

As Hutson sees the situation, the owners of the neighboring building, Timothy and Deborah Smith, do not have the financial resources to make needed repairs. Additionally, Hutson contends the Salem branch of the Butler Institute of American Art has no resources to help pay for repairs, which the Smiths and the city of Salem have requested.

The city and the Smiths contend deeds and records show the buildings share a common wall, which the Salem Art Institute disputes.

In a counterclaim, the Salem Art Institute has asked for $225,000, claiming the Smiths have not made the repairs requested by the city and caused it to shut its doors. Additionally, the Salem Art Institute contends the city has failed to enforce its own fire code, producing a letter from 1993 in which the city was requesting another owner of the building now owned by the Smiths to make repairs after the building was damaged by high winds in a storm. By failing to enforce the fire code, the Salem Art Institute claims the city was negligent in allowing the damage to their building.

The city fire inspectors cited the owners again in 2008 for not making repairs, and the city eventually filed the civil lawsuit in 2011 to try to force them to make repairs or tear the building down. In April 2011 an order was made restricting the Smiths from further utilizing their building until it was brought up to code.

Hutson also noted on Friday the possibility that even if the Smiths or even the city were to demolish the deteriorating Tan-Fastic building, engineers believe there could be a domino effect, causing the entire block of buildings to collapse. Tan-Fastic was located at 363 E. State St., while the Butler opened in 1992 in the building next door at 315 E. State St.

Although once thought to be resolved in an agreement between the city of Salem and the Smiths in February 2012, the case was reopened earlier this year when the Smiths reportedly failed to make agreed-upon repairs within six months. Those repairs were based on an engineering report by Seidler Engineering from 2009, which noted the building was in need of immediate repairs and failing to make them could lead to the overall structural integrity of the building being compromised.

At Friday’s hearing before Judge C. Ashley Pike, Salem Law Director C. Brooke Zellers said he has presented the other two attorneys with a proposed settlement, one which Brian Macala, representing the Smiths, said they are in favor of agreeing to. However, Hutson noted the position of the Salem Art Institute is that there is not a common wall and the fact the group is a 501c3 organization, which is a non-profit designation, which adds “a wrinkle” to the proposal.

“An old architect once told me, ‘When it comes to building and renovating, there is no problem money can’t solve,'” Pike said after urging the three sides to continue to look for a resolution before trial.