As Hamilton cleans up huge warehouse destroyed by fire, the question is: What’s next?

Crews from Vickers Demolition work to dismantle what is left a week after a massive warehouse fire on Laurel Avenue Wednesday, July 31 in Hamilton. The fire started just before 5 a.m. Thursday, July 25, 2019. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Crews from Vickers Demolition work to dismantle what is left a week after a massive warehouse fire on Laurel Avenue Wednesday, July 31 in Hamilton. The fire started just before 5 a.m. Thursday, July 25, 2019. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

The intensely hot July 25 fire that destroyed a warehouse in Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood may leave the city better poised to help redevelop the nearly four-acre property, officials said.

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s fire investigator and police are following up on leads about who may have started the early-morning blaze at 999 Laurel Ave. that officials have designated as suspicious.

Vickers Wrecking and Demolition is leveling the building to its concrete base and hauling off bricks, iron beams and other remains of the warehouse. That process should take about two weeks and cost $150,000 to $200,000, a higher price than earlier expected because siding on the building contained asbestos, said Tom Vanderhorst, Hamilton’s executive director of external services.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency told the demolition company how to properly dispose of the debris.

Vanderhorst called the fire “a shame, because we wanted to see that building reutilized.”

“We had spoken with a couple of developers who indicated that they thought they could demo the east end of it, put a new facade on it, and use a lot of it, but they never could strike up a price with the seller,” he said.

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Two days before the fire, Capstone Financial in Irving, Texas, sold the warehouse for $200,000 to Coast Boulevard Associates in Glendale, Arizona.

Calls this week to the new owner seeking comment on the fire, and to ask what the company’s plans had been for the property were not returned.

While neighbors reported seeing homeless people entering the unsecured building from time to time, the investigation may not be centering around them. Police Chief Craig Bucheit declined to comment on that aspect.

“We have several leads in that investigation that we are actively following up on,” he said.

He asked people who may have information about the fire to call police investigators at 513-868-5811, extension 2002.

“My gut tells me that’s going to be redeveloped,” Vanderhorst said. “I hope I’m right on that. Now that the building’s gone, I would suspect there would be interest in it, now that it’s cleaned up.”

Because of the property’s proximity to railroad tracks, he expects that an industrial or warehouse would be the most likely use, he said.

The city talked with the previous owner numerous times through the years about the need to secure the building to keep people out.

“This guy, I bet we had talked to him a half-dozen times about securing his property,” Vanderhorst said. “I told him, ‘My concern is, this thing’s going to catch on fire,’ and sure enough, it did. The shame of it is, we lost what I would say would be an asset to the community, because I think that thing still had the ability to be repurposed.

“Who knows? Maybe we’re in a better place, and we’ll get a better project, because that building definitely was obsolete. But we hate to see it go up like that,” Vanderhorst said. “It’s dangerous for the whole community, and it kind of puts us in a bind, because we weren’t budgeting for that.”

This year alone, there were six health orders on the property. In 2018, there were well over a dozen, for such issues as tall grass and weeds, graffiti and the building not being secured.

Neighbors said the day after the fire that they were glad to see the longtime eyesore gone. One man who has lived across the street for decades said he had just called the city a week earlier to complain about tall weeds. Broken gutters on the building often sent rain onto the street and sidewalk, causing people to slip on the ice in winter, and cars to slip on it, causing crashes, he said.

“This was a bad property owner,” Vanderhorst said. “At least nobody got hurt.”

Perhaps an owner will want to use the concrete slab for parking or build on it “if it’s still structurally sound,” Vanderhorst said. Also, it would have cost another $100,000 to remove the concrete slab, he said.

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The city is looking into ways to recover the demolition costs from either the new property owner, or its insurer.

“We’ll certainly investigate that,” Vanderhorst said. “We’ve been in contact with the property owner.”

In the past, when the city had to demolish collapsing buildings, the city has successfully collected from property owners.

Recently, another long-vacant warehouse in Lindenwald, located on Belle Avenue, has been occupied by Darana Hybrid, which installs material-handling systems, like conveyor belts, for Amazon and other large companies. The company has hired eight Lindenwald residents.

The company also is moving its operations from where they now are, in Memphis, the company’s CEO, Darryl Cuttell, told this media outlet in June.

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