Workers are cleaning and fixing up a business property at a key Whiteland intersection after the town ordered the owner to make repairs.
The work on the property, at the northwest corner of U.S. 31 and Whiteland Road, is the first major maintenance that’s been done in about 10 years, Whiteland town manager Dennis Capozzi said.
A Mr. D’s grocery store had rented the building, which is more than 60 years old, but closed in 2002. The site has been vacant since then.
A year ago, Allen Commercial Group bought the 1.8-acre site with plans to redevelop it.
This spring, the town ordered the owner, 8 North 31 LLC, which is managed by Allen Commercial Group, to take down the dilapidated awning, remove rotting wood trim and paneling, repair and paint the building façade, throw out any trash or debris and secure the building so people can’t get inside.
The owner also must keep up on required maintenance, such as mowing, weeding and cleaning up any vandalism, according to the town’s order.
When the Allen company purchased the property, officials said they had contact with some companies that might be interested in the location, so the town held off on ordering any repairs, Capozzi said. When he checked with the company several months ago, no negotiations with potential buyers were underway. The town decided to get the building cleaned up, he said.
“Basically they came back after an inquiry this spring by us and said we had nobody on the hook. That’s when we decided when we’d do something,” Capozzi said.
The building has been broken into multiple times since Allen Commercial Group purchased it, and someone stole electrical wiring and mechanical components out of the building, agent John Cunningham said. There were also signs that someone had been living in the building during the winter, he said.
The company has hired workers to meet the requirements of the repair order, and Cunningham said they were planning some improvements anyway to make the property more marketable. He said there was nothing new with efforts to sell the building, but the real estate group is continuing to seek out buyers.
“When you’re trying to sell the site to new tenants and explain Whiteland is a good community, vandalism doesn’t help,” he said.
About 10 years ago, the previous owners put up concrete barriers to prevent semitrailers from parking in the lot and painted the building at the time, Capozzi said. Since then, weeds have overgrown the property, the paint has chipped, wood is deteriorating, and the awning has fallen into disrepair, he said.
The building had been owned by Wabash College and a resident who lives elsewhere. The grocery stores that previously operated there had rented the property.
Whiteland hadn’t forced repairs before because the building changed owners twice and then was tied up in a legal case in the county courts that eventually led to an auction in spring 2013. Town officials didn’t want to get dragged into a legal battle and didn’t want to use tax money to make the repairs, he said.
Capozzi doesn’t expect the property to look new after the current work but said the goal is to improve its appearance and prevent it from being a target for break-ins and squatters, he said. The town can’t order the owner to tear down the building because it is structurally solid and in no danger of collapsing, he said.
“They need to keep control of that, and they’ve been trying to. But it’s still a mess,” Capozzi said.