Jerome Greene's dream "to revitalize a small town here in Indiana," is now officially a casualty of COVID-19, along with the hopes of city officials and residents of turning around the historic Uptown North Vernon area.
Greene, an Indianapolis artist/de-signer, purchased the two Greathouse Hardware buildings at 462 and 504 East O&M Avenue from Victor Davis after Davis purchased the two large brick structures after an auction on May 22, 2017. The buildings are located across from each other at the corner of Fifth Street and East O&M Avenue. The hardware store was most recently located at the 462 structure.
Soon after the purchase, Greene announced he would renovate the 21,000 square feet of space into a center for artists. His plan was to put in retail businesses on the first floor of 462 East O&M with artist studios on the second and third floors. Greene explained the building would attract artists to North Vernon because they could not afford the high cost of studio space at Circle City.
The building at 504 East O&M Ave., would serve as a gallery with Greene's own studio on the second floor and his apartment on the third. When an addition at the rear of the building collapsed a year or so later, it was eventually torn down at the urging of the Area Plan Commission. At that time, Greene said he would build a garage at that spot to house his antique vehicle he would drive in local parades.
Joe Thompson was hired to clean up the debris and later a Seymour firm began interior work. Windows were boarded up, after being exposed for months, and some framing was erected. Greene also put up fencing around the structure for public safety.
In a letter to Mayor Mike Ochs last week, though, Greene explained COVID-19 had brought an end to his dream. He and his wife's business, the restaurant-design firm Phanomen Designs, has been "hit hard" due to the pandemic. He also sought city assistance but was told there was nothing the city could offer.
His letter is printed at right.
Mayor Ochs noted the two Greathouse buildings are in the NV Redevelopment or TIF area and he would be investigating to see if there was any assistance the city could offer.
In the meantime, FC Tucker, a Columbus real estate firm, is scheduled to visit the buildings this week to assess their value for the sale.
Greene: COVID-19 has 'changed everything'
Letter to Mayor Ochs:
I'm writing to let you know that I've reached out to your son Jeremy to sell my properties.
It was a dream of mine to try to revitalize a small town here in Indiana and although I was working with a shoestring budget I felt confident I would be able to pull if off. Well that was before covid-19 arrived and changed everything on my end. Our business is 90 percent dependent on the Restaurant Industry and as a result of covid-19 we have been hit hard. All but 3 of our 40 projects have been put on hold or canceled altogether. As a result I had to make some hard financial choices and without a miracle on the horizon I had to have my dream of turning the old Great House Hardware Store into an Artist Colony come to an end.
Before I purchased the buildings it was suggested to me by one of my clients that I reach out your town in a quasi-interview of sorts to see what type of small business programs were available to businesses willing to make investments. At the time there was nothing available, no tax incentives or small business grants available. I took the risk anyway based solely on the wonderful reception I had received, from you and your staff. After attending several business meetings I learned that there were tax abatement programs available just not for business willing to invest in the downtown core. Coming up with $10,0000 in taxes per year for buildings that are unoccupied and under rehabilitation was easy when times were certain but with covid-19 it's a struggle to stay afloat.
When the town's council-men reached out to me in discussing of what they were envisioning for the downtown core I was interested to see what they had to offer. I thought perhaps they were going to present me with the possibility of a grant instead they were only interested in using my buildings as a pitch to outside investors. Ignoring the one investor who took a risk in their town in the first place.
If the town would be open to extending the tax-abatement program (TIFF) to include businesses that were investing in the downtown core or provide a redevelopment grant I could make a go of it. Without something like that I simply cannot afford it.
The silver lining in all of this is that with my original outreach to HGTV they contacted me today with additional interest. So hopefully your town can finally catch a break.
Thanks for everything you and Tanya have done for me.