North End hope: Abandoned, fire-prone dairy is razed in Hamilton while new tavern takes shape

The new owner of the French Bauer Dairy property has demolished the abandoned building that was prone to fires but plans to keep the structure with the smokestack. He has offered plans for a replacement building where he wants to store construction equipment. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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The new owner of the French Bauer Dairy property has demolished the abandoned building that was prone to fires but plans to keep the structure with the smokestack. He has offered plans for a replacement building where he wants to store construction equipment. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Development spreading to North End and other city neighborhoods

A troublesome abandoned building in Hamilton’s North End neighborhood has been leveled by its owner, who hopes to turn the property into a far more attractive location to store construction equipment.

Jason Dewayne Combs acquired the French Bauer Dairy property at 551 N. 6th St. in February 2020 and has cooperated with the city in securing it. He recently razed the abandoned building with plans to leave the distinctive French Bauer smokestack in place, city officials said.

Fire Chief Mark Mercer said fire staff met with Combs, who installed a chain-link fence around the lot. Prior to that, people had been entering the building and possibly living there.

“He pulled a demolition permit, and what you see is what you get,” Mercer said. “It’s been very successful for the city, and I think it’s going to be a good site for him.”

While Hamilton City Council in late 2019 approved a law that officials believed would prompt owners of abandoned commercial buildings to renovate them or put them up for sale, that legislation played little part in Combs’ actions, Mercer said.

But, “I would say it at least was an avenue to open the conversation,” Mercer said.

During the pandemic, Hamilton has not enforced the vacant-property legislation, which requires owners to register their properties, and provide ways for city employees to get inside for inspections and emergencies. Owners of empty commercial buildings also are to pay fees that climb double annually from $400 year the first year a building is vacant up to $6,400 per year.

The city hired ProChamps to register properties, and, “we’re just wrapping up the termination of that contract,” Mercer said. “They weren’t able to get it together for us.”

Demolition of the abandoned and fire-prone building spared Hamilton’s city government significant money from having to knock it down itself.

Preliminary plans submitted to the city in May call for an office and maintenance-garage building for Moonlite Companies, which own five dump trucks that haul for materials contractors across the region. The construction arm specializes in water-main and sewer-main replacements for area construction work.

The owner of the French Bauer Dairy property, who has torn down a building there but plans to keep the building with the smokestack, wants to build a new building for storage of construction equipment. PROVIDED
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The owner of the French Bauer Dairy property, who has torn down a building there but plans to keep the building with the smokestack, wants to build a new building for storage of construction equipment. PROVIDED

Stone Tavern plans

Meanwhile, another North End property owner has plans to turn the street level of a cornerstone building in the neighborhood, located at the northeast corner of Heaton Street and Greenwood Avenue into the Stone Tavern. With that building, owner and woodworker Jim Pickup says he’s undertaking the project because it’s an important Hamilton building, and he wants to return it to life.

Here's what the owner of the proposed Stone Tavern wants his building at Heaton Street and Greenwood Avenue to look like when it is finished. PROVIDED
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Here's what the owner of the proposed Stone Tavern wants his building at Heaton Street and Greenwood Avenue to look like when it is finished. PROVIDED

“I bought the building years and years ago because I just hated to see the building just dilapidate,” he said. He already operates three apartments upstairs.

“It was a tavern forever and ever,” said Pickup, 74, originally from Crewe, England, near Liverpool, who has lived locally 50 years. “I used to go in there every now and again, drink a beer.”

“I’m a professional woodworker,” he said. “I thought I would leave my mark on Hamilton by making it into a really nice place and hopefully to better the North End.”

He plans to spend $150,000-$200,000 on it, including with addition of a kitchen in back where a cookhouse was early in the 20th century. It should seat 50 inside, with 30 more outdoors.

“There’s a lot of people excited,” he said. “I have people stop by every day. They say, ‘When I was a kid I used to be here,’ and ‘My Mom used to work here,’ and ‘I met my husband here.’ All kinds of stuff.”

The building is built “like a castle,” Pickup said, with 20-inch-thick walls all the way up.

ExploreFrom early 2020: Up next for development: Hamilton’s North End neighborhood. Here’s the plan.

Hamilton development spreading outward

While city officials in the past decade first focused their development energy on the business corridor of High and Main streets, which are starting to energize, those efforts now are expanding to other areas, such as blocks north and south of those primary roadways, as well as Lindenwald, the city’s Second Ward (also known as Riverview), Fourth Ward (Jefferson) and the North End.

That’s always been the plan, said Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson.

“If you take a look at areas where we have projects going on, it’s really dispersed throughout the city,” Gunderson said. “And we’re starting in areas now that have not seen that type of growth for a long time. But we have made relationships with developments that pretty soon, we’ll have a project in every part of the city.”

“That’s what our objective is,” he said.

ExploreDeveloper wants to restore historic Hamilton mill with apartments, retail space
While most of the abandoned and dangerous French Bauer Dairy building has been demolished, city staff are pleased the historic smokestack, a reminder of Hamilton's industrial past, remains. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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While most of the abandoned and dangerous French Bauer Dairy building has been demolished, city staff are pleased the historic smokestack, a reminder of Hamilton's industrial past, remains. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF