Vermilion Chamber Foundation supports commercial building and historic school – Morning Journal

A nonprofit foundation will guide the evolution of one of Vermilion’s historic buildings and the event center next door.

Friends of Harbor Town 1837 sold Commodore’s Place, 995 State St., and the 1909 Old Vermilion School House next door at 993 State St.

The new owner is the Vermilion Chamber Foundation, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce.

Ownership was transferred Jan. 11, according to Erie County Auditor records.

The Friends of Harbor Town 1837 will remain at Commodore’s Place until the end of October, said Kenneth M. Baughman, president of the organization.

During that time, the Vermilion Chamber Foundation will develop a plan for the buildings, said Sandra Coe, executive director of the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber will retain its office at 5495 Liberty Ave.

State Street, which is Ohio Route 60, is one of the main roads leading into Vermilion. So the goal is to make it a nice site, possibly with tourist information available, Coe said.

Friends of Harbor Town 1837 sold Commodore’s Place, 995 State St., and the 1909 Old Vermilion School House next door at 993 State St., seen here. The new owner is the Vermilion Chamber Foundation, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce. Commodore’s Place could become a new business incubator space, and the Vermilion Chamber Foundation is awaiting a building analysis to make a plan for the historic schoolhouse. (Richard Payerchin – The morning newspaper)

New business support

Vermilion Chamber Foundation leaders are looking to create incubator space to help small businesses grow inside Commodore’s Place, Coe said.

Around Ohio and the United States, cities have spaces where home-based business operators can rent space to expand, she said.

Operators may not be able to afford or find a storefront, but they need more space than they have.

“Maybe we can help them as a middle ground where they can come in and sell their products from our (space),” Coe said.

The community could benefit from the extra taxpayer money, she said.

“We have good ideas, and it just takes time,” Coe said. “As I told my board, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and they have good ideas and things take time and money.”

The Vermilion Chamber Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that can seek various grants to help the space, which will get a new name.

The Foundation Board includes Chairman Shawn Kipp of Pat O’Brien Chevrolet; treasurer Melody Ellison of the Vermilion branch of 5/3 Bank; and secretary Nikki Dover of Smokin’ Joes/Country Breeze.

Betsy Wakefield, a retired Vermilion City Court judge, and Amy Bowman-Moore, director of Erie MetroParks, are members.

School Terms

In the past, Friends of Harbor Town 1837 and Vermilion City Inspectors have disputed the condition of the school building.

Vermilion Chamber Foundation leaders will assess its condition and consider what is best for the building and the community, Coe said.

She declined to comment on repair or demolition options because the Foundation does not yet have a full assessment.

Many people in the town still know it as the Old Haunted School House, Coe said.

For years, it served as a haunted house fundraiser for the group Friends.

Commodores Square

In 2021, Friends of Harbor Town 1837 unveiled the renovated Commodore’s Place and a rejuvenated 6,000 square foot events center that can accommodate up to 320 people.

It was meant to be a rental location to raise money for the preservation of the Old Vermilion School House, which sits next door at 993 State St.

“Like all things, the necessary repairs have exceeded our ability to carry them out,” Baughmann said. “Donations and volunteers have dropped dramatically in recent years.”

The novel coronavirus pandemic and other community factors have significantly affected the Friends of Harbor Town group’s community service goals and projects, he said.

“With limited funding available and fewer volunteers, tough choices had to be made,” Baughmann said.

The organization sold the property for $1 because “the Vermilion Chamber Foundation is in a much better position than we are now when it comes to volunteers and funding,” he said.

Good for the neighborhood

The sale was the right choice for the neighborhood, Baughman said.

Had it been offered for sale to anyone, the property would have sold for more, but it is also one of the few remaining industrially zoned properties in Vermilion, he said.

In theory, “a meat-packing plant or other noisy industrial enterprise could have acquired the property and done whatever it wanted with it in the middle of a quiet, historically centered neighborhood of quaint homes,” Baughmann said.

“A commercial sale would have bothered the neighbors, and we just didn’t want that to happen, so it was our only logical option,” he said.

not the end

The sale does not mean the end of Friends of Harbor Town 1837, Baughman said.

“There’s a difference between down and out and downsizing,” he said. “The Friends of Harbourtown have been supporting the community for over 52 years and we hope to continue that support for as long as we want and can.”

Friends of Harbor Town 1837 will retain ownership of the adjacent train depot, which is being fully restored, in hopes that the 1909 Nickel Plate Railway caboose can be placed alongside.

The caboose would make a nice addition to Vermilion’s historic charm, Baughman said, suggesting Victory Park as a potential new site for it.

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