FULTON – The Fulton City Council finally decided to end the long-simmering debate over what to do with the Drives Building.
It voted 5 to 3 this week to tear down the 100-plus-year-old building by the end of the year, but not before Mayor Michael Ottens got an earful from people who want to save the building from the wrecking ball.
The 105-year-old former factory at 1009 First St. has been at the center of an ongoing disagreement between the City Council and an exploratory committee over what to to do with it.
On Monday, that disagreement was on display when community member Richard Farwell said he failed to see how the building would be a burden to taxpayers. He said the Drives Building Historic Committee came up with $350,000 to renovate the building, adding that more money could be raised.
“It makes no sense,” Farwell said of tearing down the building. “But as we all know, our mayor was against this before he was elected and he continued. It was a power play, in my opinion. There were three empty seats – in case all of you didn’t know – which he filled with his choosing. So he got three votes in his favor immediately. … I think our city is being run like a mayor’s little thiefdom.”
The Drives Building Committee was formed in 2014 by then-Mayor Larry Russell to gather input on what to do with the building. The committee eventually planned to rehabilitate the building into a community center, which would include an office for the tourism director and an upstairs conference room for larger groups or banquets. It’s given the city two options for renovation, one that costs $685,000 and includes a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, and a lesser option that would cost $578,000.
The council decided in April 2016 to spend no more than $34,000 on the roof, and made repairing the remainder contingent on the Drives Building Committee raising $250,000 in donations, which it did.
Since then, though, the city has parted ways with the group, voting June 25 to ends its affiliation partnership with the committee.
Alderwoman Sue Van Kampen, who voted against Monday’s measure, said she didn’t understand the city’s focus on not wanting taxpayer money to go into the building. She said the Drives Historic Building committee has already promised it would not come to the city for funds.
“They’re spending their own money, and they are volunteering,” she said. “But then … you’re going to force them to pay taxes to tear it down. .. I want you to consider that because to me that’s a little hypocritical.”
The building dates back to 1913, when it served as an office for Fidelity Life Insurance. Drives, a chain manufacturing company for agriculture and industry, bought the building in 1974, eventually giving it to the city in 2010, the year before the company was bought by Timken Co.