City Moves to Protect Our History

Three historic preservation projects are set to kick off soon in downtown New Albany. The three properties targeted are the Baity Funeral Home along State Street, the Knights of Columbus building on Main Street, and the Reisz building on Main Street.

All three properties will undergo renovations and enhancements, bringing new life to the three historic properties in downtown.

“These projects will all serve three major goals: historic preservation, economic redevelopment, and blight removal,” stated Mayor Jeff Gahan. “The city is 200 years old, and it is time for the city to support preservation efforts that will add to the historic character of New Albany.”

Baity Funeral Home

The Baity Funeral Home, also known as the Louis Hartman House, was constructed by S. Day & Sons in 1898, who built many of the city’s finest commercial and residential buildings at the turn of the 20th century. The building, which was showcased in a 2013 book by Ray Day, is a notable example of Queen Anne architecture, featuring corner turrets, multiple bay windows, shingled gables, wraparound columned porch, stained and leaded glass, oak woodwork, parquet flooring, and more.

The building served as the Baity Funeral Home, a prominent African-American business in the community, for over 40 years. Unfortunately, the building was badly damaged in January of 2017 by a fire and threatened with demolition.

Indiana Landmarks, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to saving, restoring, and repurposing historic properties will be relocating their Southern Regional Offices to New Albany to save the endangered Louis Hartman House.

“We hope that revitalization efforts will continue north along the State Street corridor,” stated Greg Sekula of Indiana Landmarks. “This house will really help be the front door for the state street revitalization effort. Preserving our history is really all about sense of place and a community’s character, and what people want today is to connect to that community character. They want a place that has architectural beauty, has walkability, and we are certainly seeing that in our downtown area.”

Knights of Columbus

The Knights of Columbus building is set to receive a new façade, bringing the building up to modern service. The Knights of Columbus has seen a resurgence as of late, with many citizens utilizing the facility, and engaging in charity work and community service at many levels throughout the community.

“It will benefit from the government level all the way down to the local level,” stated city councilman Dan Coffey.

Reisz Building

The historic Reisz Building on Main Street was constructed in the 1852 and was home to a flour mill. It then served as the Kraft Funeral Home, followed by the M. Fine & Sons shirt factory. The Reisz has also served as the home of the Graf Harness and Saddlery Shop, and has also been utilized by the Schmitt Furniture Company.

After being vacant for decades, the Reisz is set to be fully renovated and be the future home of city operations. The building is currently in poor structural condition, and was nearing the point of demolition if an investment was not made soon.

“The Reisz Building is currently an unsafe structure. The building is in a place right now where either something needs to be done, or it needs to come down for the safety of the community. We are dealing with massive settling of the structure, deteriorated posts and beams are holding it up, and if these issues are not corrected soon, could cause irreversible damage. Based on a recent safety inspection, these problems could have dire consequences for the building and those surrounding it if not corrected,” stated Building Commissioner David Brewer.

“This project is the perfect example of how historic preservation, blight removal, and economic redevelopment can come together to create a great project,” stated Mayor Jeff Gahan. “By removing the blight from the area and saving this historic structure, the entire corridor will benefit. We have worked to try to find a solution for the building for years, but given the scale and condition of the property, it was difficult to find a private investor that could tackle the entire property and save this historic and full-of-character structure.”

“To come in and have a user that will redevelop the whole property – it will be a substantial investment. I think people will be very happy to see the interest coming in and redeveloping it, and it will also help the surrounding businesses see that their investment is going to be further complemented by the public investment in the Reisz building,” stated Mike Kopp, a prominent real estate developer who has helped transform historic structures for new uses.

The move in city operations makes sense not just for historic preservation, blight removal, and economic redevelopment purposes, but for basic finances of the city as well.

“It will save us money in the long-run to move out of the city-county building and to purchase the Reisz, and it will help cleanup a part of downtown,” stated city councilman Dan Coffey.

Currently, the city rents space from the county building authority at a cost of nearly $190,000 per year. The new city hall in the Reisz building will have 23,000 square feet, compared with the current 7000 square foot space leased in the city-county building. In the current building, the city pays $25.71 per square foot. In the new space, the cost will be reduced dramatically to $9.20 per square foot.

“When this project is complete, the residents of New Albany will own a new, modern city hall. Instead of throwing away our community’s tax dollars on rent, we will be investing in and saving a historic property that will be owned by the community and utilized for years to come,” stated Mayor Jeff Gahan.