LAKEWOOD, Ohio – Mayor Mike Summers and several city council members are asking residents to be patient while the city seeks county, state and federal grants to demolish the former Hilliard Square Theater.
Two Northland Avenue residents who live near the 88-year-old theater asked city officials during a council meeting this week for an update on plans to demolish the vacant building, which has holes in the roof and a fence around the front. One of the men called the building ugly. The theater faces onto Hilliard Road, near the intersection of Madison Avenue.
“What we’re looking for is some timeline both from the administration and the council to get rid of what … is certainly ugly and is also becoming a safety hazard,” resident Doug Ely said.
The Hilliard Square Theater, with 1,228 seats, was built about 1927 as a movie theater that also staged vaudeville shows. The theater closed in the early 1960s but reopened later under the name of the Westwood Theatre, before closing in 1988.
Robert Dobush purchased the theater and the attached apartments and storefronts about 17 years ago for about $275,000, to prevent the building from being razed. He has tried unsuccessfully ever since to find someone to renovate building.
The city declared the building a public nuisance in 2013, a year after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the roof. Last July, officials put demolition plans on hold, citing a cost of more than $700,000, including asbestos abatement.
Summers said Monday night that the city so far hasn’t had much luck finding outside funding, but it is waiting for news from Cuyahoga County about a fund created last October to help pay demolition costs for vacant and abandoned buildings that pose a threat to citizens’ safety.
The city could qualify for as much as $200,000, Summers said. That would only cover about one-quarter the the total cost. However, it would allow the city to begin removing asbestos.
“I wish I could be more promising in terms of getting the whole amount we would like to have, but I want you to know this is a priority,” Summers said.
Summers didn’t rule out having the city pay for a large share of the demolition costs, but he said the city then would need to cut spending elsewhere.
City councilman Thomas Bullock supported the administration’s efforts to put demolition on hold while searching for funding options.
“It takes a certain amount of time, which is understandably frustrating to all of us,” Bullock said. “But city dollars are scarce – a very scarce resource.”
Richard Zonar, another Northland Avenue resident, said someone could be injured or property damaged because of the building’s deteriorating condition. In addition to the theater, the property contains adjoining storefronts and apartments.
Last May, the city put up a fence in front of the property and removed the theater marquee because it extended over the sidewalk. If the city tears down the building, it may seek a lien on the property to recoup some of the demolition costs.
Dobush said he still held out hope for saving the old building, hoping to find someone interested in renovating the theater. Another option would be finding a buyer interested in demolishing the building and redeveloping the property.
In the meantime, Dobush said he is doing his best to maintain the property, visiting several times each week. He said he is considering seeking a loan to put a new roof on the building in the spring.