UPDATE: The Goshen Redevelopment Commission tabled this issue Tuesday for 90 days for research on the history of the buildings and to accept any proposals from people who may want to save the houses.

GOSHEN — A group of about 20 concerned citizens gathered at the Greencroft Community Center in Goshen Monday afternoon to brainstorm ideas on how to save a potentially historic South Third Street home targeted for demolition.

Central to Monday’s discussion are connected residential properties at 401 S. Third St. and 204 W. Madison St. that are owned and being considered for demolition by the Goshen Redevelopment Commission.

Originally brought as an item for consideration during the RDC’s May 14 meeting, the call for demolition essentially involves a desire by the commission to demolish the two properties, both of which are in poor condition, rather than make any substantial investments in the buildings. The commission’s long-term goal is to redevelop the half-block in which the two homes are located.

However, commission members ultimately ended up voting to table the request until their June 11 meeting after concerns were raised that the homes may have historical significance for the city, and thus preservation may be warranted.

Along those lines, it was noted at the time that representatives of the Goshen Historical Society had pledged their assistance in exploring the history of the two properties in preparation for the June 11 meeting.

PRESERVING HISTORY

It was in the spirit of that call for preservation that the group of about 20 residents gathered at the Greencroft Community Center, intent on finding a way to convince the RDC’s members that the properties at 401 S. Third St. and 204 W. Madison St. are worth preserving.

Among those helping to lead that call were Rebecca Akens and Lin Garber, both of whom are advocates for the preservation of Goshen’s historic buildings.

“If we’re looking at the historic district, and we’re just tearing down houses, it ceases to be the historic district. And Third Street has been put through the ringer. So, personally I would like to see that stop,” Akens said in addressing the issue Monday. “And I understand certain areas can get run down, but I also don’t think that we should just take everything out as a solution. I don’t think it’s the best solution.”

According to Ervin Beck, a member of the board of directors of the Goshen Historical Society who has been looking into the history of the properties in question, it does appear that the properties, reportedly built sometime in the early 1860s, are historically significant, most specifically in terms of their architecture.

“It’s basically a Gothic Revival house. So it has architectural distinction,” Beck said of the properties, noting only about two or three such homes still remain in the city. “I think that’s what recommends it, in that context. Somewhere else, it may not be very important. But in order to preserve some sense of historic downtown Goshen, I think it’s worth saving.”

CHANGING MINDS

Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, who spent many years prior to his election as mayor renovating historic downtown buildings, said he felt the group could potentially sway the RDC’s decision on demolition, given a compelling enough argument is presented.

“My family and I, we have spent years in downtown Goshen trying to do what we can. We could have done things in other areas that would have been easier and quicker. So I do have a real heart for what’s historic,” Stutsman said in addressing the group Monday. “My feeling is, just because something is old, it doesn’t make it historic. But if there’s quality information that can be given. ... It’s out of my hands. The Redevelopment Commission owns this. But I think that’s something they would listen to, is a quality case.”

Regardless of whether or not the group is successful in averting the demolition of the two properties, Garber expressed his belief that the city needs to look into the possibility of creating some type of official historical preservation commission that has the expertise, and “teeth,” to adequately identify and protect the city’s historic properties. A majority of the gathered group agreed.

“The historical buildings are what makes Goshen unique,” Akens said of the suggestion. “Every single one has a story, it’s beautiful to look at, it’s art. It really is.”

For her part, local artist and entrepreneur Amy Worsham, suggested some type of combined arts and architecture commission could be just what the group is looking for.

“We do have an arts council and advisory board, and it has crossed my mind in the past that maybe it should be an art and architecture advisory board, and this would be an opportunity for it to become more than an advisory board, and for it to really kind of get some grip, and have opportunity there, since they already have a voice,” Worsham said, to nods from the group. “They’ve been established for a couple of years now, and it’s an opportunity to kind of see what could happen in the next stage of setting a standard for the future of Goshen.”

Asked what it would take for the group to move forward with such a plan, Stutsman noted that the formation of any group that has actual power to make or enforce policy would have to go through the Goshen City Council.

“Advisory councils to the mayor I can create today. So like the Latino Advisory Committee, the Arts Advisory Committee, and I’ve got an Environmental Advisory Committee now. But all of those have no teeth,” Stutsman said. “They have a voice, but it’s about creating a place for me to bounce stuff off of. But to have actual teeth, it has to be created through the City Council through ordinance. If you want it to have teeth, it has to go through the council.”

As for whether he would support such a push, Stutsman said he would be all-in for such a commission.

“If you guys are serious about wanting to sit down and talk about options for a commission and that type of thing, I would be more than happy to help set up meetings with different council members and help you with that process,” Stutsman said. “Feel free to reach out.”

As for the June 11 RDC meeting, several of the group’s attendees expressed their plans to attend the meeting along with members of the Goshen Historical Society to add their voices of opposition to the proposed demolition plan.

Tuesday's RDC meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. in the council chambers of the Goshen Police and Courts Building, 111 E. Jefferson St., Goshen.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN

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