(This is Part I. Part II can be accessed at the end of this article.)
Two weeks ago during lunch, I was taking an autumn walk with a friend in downtown Kokomo.
We passed a large white structure which is now known as the Barko Building. It is located in the middle of West Walnut Street on the north side of Courthouse Square.
My friend stopped to talk to a worker at the site, and he permitted us to ‘take a peek’ inside. My friend wanted to see the progress that she had heard was being made on the building.
The kindest thing I can say about the interior condition of the structure, though, is that as I stood inside I was very concerned.
I was concerned about the smell of mold and of animals and also of the unsightly disarray of years and piles of storage.
My concerns were for the surrounding downtown businesses and for the community’s economic development goal of seeing the center of Kokomo thrive once again.
I later learned that the building’s condition has been a concern as well to many other Kokomoans for several years.
About a month ago several citizens registered their dismay on a website called NotInKokomo.com.
In 2007 the Kokomo Tribune printed an article by Scott Smith about the property entitled, “Former Barko building rehab still in progress: James Vogel trying to find engineer to certify structure”.
In that article, both the interior works of restoration as well as the future plans for the building were described by the owner James Vogel.
That renovation information was offered over four years ago, however.
And, though I am admittedly not an expert in building restoration, what I saw of the building did not appear to be in a transformational process.
As a local citizen, though, I am interested in the future of Kokomo, including its downtown area.
So, I did some research.
I first contacted Ross Pierce who writes a Kokomo blog on urban development called “Kokomotive”. Pierce also has a degree in urban development from Ball State University.
His research showed that “the building is much older than originally thought. It is actually two separate buildings with a facade to look like one building. The facade is in an art deco style, but the main portion of the building was built in 1873. The two buildings’ names are the Barko Building and the W.H Turner Building.”
Ross also described several grants that were available for property improvements, but unfortunately none of them seemed to fit the situation for the Barko Building.
Steve Barnett of the Board of Public Works and Safety says he originally considered demolishing the building near the time that the roof collapsed about eight years ago.
Barnett says, though, it is not the purpose of the city to ‘put a hole’ in a downtown area like that. And, Barnett says that Vogel met in front of the board at that time and satisfactorily showed them plans of repair.
Subsequently, Barnett inspected the building and issued a Certificate to Occupy on the smaller East Wing. He says, though, that was several years ago, and he has not inspected the building since then.
The other larger part of the building was determined to be structurally sound at the time Barnett inspected it; however, it was not cleared to be open to the public. The roof had been repaired and floor supports had been placed.
“We just inspect the structural condition,” Barnett said. “We can not enforce against complaints of, ‘it’s ugly’ or ‘it smells’.” He says the owner has the right to use both sides of the building for storage.
Years ago fire inspector Nick Glover said that he took a tour of the building and noted that the floors and roof at that time were not structurally sound. He said that at one point the fire department’s basic protocol regarding the building was that if there was a fire and there was life inside they would still make entry in an attempt to save the people who were trapped. Otherwise, they would have limited their rescue to putting water on the structure as well as protecting exposure (the buildings immediately adjacent to it). Glover is checking on the current protocol regarding the building.
Public records are also available on other aspects of the building.
According to the Treasurer’s Office, as of September 16, 2011, there are back taxes owed on the Barko building at 114 W Walnut Street (and 116) in the amount of $5628.61.
$6228.92 was paid on June 21, 2011. If that payment had not been made on time, the property would have gone to a tax sale.
Additionally, the Sanitation Department has two liens on the building totaling $166.77 plus fees. These liens have been turned over to the Treasurer’s Office for collection.
A few days ago, while I was taking pictures of the rear of the building, I met the owner’s son, Jason Vogel. As we talked and I explained my interest in the downtown area including various buildings, I explained that I was writing an article for Splash ! Kokomo.
James said that new red awnings were recently placed over the windows in the front.
The new red awnings do look nice; here is a picture I took a few days ago with the new look on the front of the building.
The picture below shows the view that passersby see as they travel down West Walnut Street. I asked Jason if there was any plan to attractively cover the windows themselves so that the mountain of storage was not visible to our downtown visitors. He said his father had considered that improvement along with the awnings, but he has just not gotten to that point yet.
In a subsequent telephone call to Jason, we talked about this issue again. I shared with him a suggestion given to me by a downtown employee about a possible positive means of covering up the clutter.
The idea, which was suggested to me by a downtown employee, was for the owner to allow nonprofits to decorate the windows with their information and a curtain backdrop. This would serve two purposes—to cover up the clutter and to promote a good cause.
Jason said he would pass the information along to his dad, and I added that I felt the community would view any window improvement in a positive light.
(Click here for Part II.)