A partial collapse of a wall along the east side of a building behind the Parker House left a gaping hole Wednesday, along with reigniting a debate about properties owned by Jack Hope in the 100 block of West Main Street.
Hope was on the scene Wednesday morning, along with Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, Paint Creek Fire Chief Bradley George, and several city workers and inspectors. Hope said he was arranging for the debris to be cleared.
Hastings was overheard suggesting to Hope that the structure be demolished. Shawn Adkins, the city public works lead, expressed concern that if the building collapsed more, it could snap a nearby electric pole and cut power to the downtown area. Hope said he was considering his options.
Branden Jackman, public information officer for Paint Creek, said the collapse was reported to the fire department by the Hillsboro Police Department early Wednesday.
Sgt. Steve Browder, acting chief of HPD, said later that Sgt. Shawn Kelly first noticed the collapse and reported it at 4:53 a.m. Wednesday.
Hope said Wednesday that the building where the wall collapsed was not physically attached to the Parker House. But the wall’s crumbling is sure to refocus attention on not only that structure, but on other nearby buildings owned by Hope that have been at the center of disputes between Hope and the city through the years.
In 2015, the city took Hope to court for failing to register the Parker House Hotel as vacant property. Hope challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance, and the case was ultimately dismissed.
In court, Hope said, “I’m going to continue to try to improve the buildings of downtown Hillsboro.”
In 2008, the city and Hope were at odds over permitting inspections at various properties along West Main Street owned by Hope, particularly the Parker House. Then-safety and service director Ralph Holt said at the time, “We need to get it resolved one way or another. (The engineers) can look to see what Jack can do to either fix it, demo it, and the cost would be something he could absorb,” according to a Times-Gazette article.
But Hope disagreed, saying, “It’s dirty and musty, but structurally sound. It doesn’t meet current code, but that’s because it was built in the 1800s. I think it’s a valuable part of Hillsboro and I want to preserve it.”
Shortly thereafter, the city erected a chain-link fence on the sidewalk in front of the Parker House, claiming the building was unstable.
But Hope’s battles with city leaders go back to the 1980s, when he first purchased the Parker Hotel and Parker House, along with other adjacent buildings housing various retail businesses and restaurants such as Magee’s.
In his autobiography, “High Hopes,” which he published in 2012, Hope, a career engineer, devotes an entire chapter to the subject, entitled, “The Hillsboro Project: A Great City Plan Still Waiting To Be Realized 1982-present.”
A summation of the chapter states that after Hope and a partner “purchased and restored several buildings and formed an organization to develop it into an attractive and viable modern showplace and commerce center, the program was undone by the resistance of certain local interests.” Hope is particularly critical of Hillsboro bankers at the time who did not get on board with his project.
“As predicted in 1985, the abandonment of downtown Hillsboro by the banks has led to major changes in the city,” Hope writes in his book, adding that most new development ended up happening on the north side of town, with new school facilities built south of town.
He closes the chapter with what might be a tongue-in-cheek assessment: “If the old saying about what makes for a desirable property is true – LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION – downtown Hillsboro may eventually be the ideal location in Hillsboro, because it is midway between developments both north and south of town.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.