September 4, 2003


Mill faces uncertain future

Those involved in efforts to save Grinnell Mill say they spent the summer trying to reach an agreement to rehabilitate the nearly 200-year-old historic building in Glen Helen. But the window of opportunity Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman gave Antioch University to remediate the fire hazard is closing, and no clear plan has been submitted, Altman said.

Discussions stalled a few weeks ago when the university made its third offer in a year to sell the mill to local resident Jim Hammond. Hammond said he had understood the conditions of the deal to be different than those in the contract, and he has not responded with either an acceptance or a rejection to the offer.

On Friday, Sept. 5, it will be 90 days since the fire department gave orders to Antioch in early June to either restore or destroy the building, which presents a fire and safety hazard to its neighbors and to the trespassers who sometimes break into it. The university needs to produce a viable plan for the mill and demonstrate that the building will be occupied and used, Altman said.

“If they can demonstrate to me that they’re in negotiations, we may be inclined to give them more time,” he said. “But the fact remains that the building is a fire hazard, and I would not be inclined to give them more than a month. If they can’t do it within a month, then they’re not serious about saving the building.”

According to Hammond, Antioch recently made a verbal offer to give him the mill and lease the land it occupies for $1 per year for 99 years. Even though he had been through more than a year of negotiations with Antioch, Hammond was interested in trying again to reach an agreement. David Neuhardt, an attorney who is also president of the Yellow Springs Historical Society, entered the negotiations as a neutral party and offered to draw up a lease agreement with the conditions the university presented. Neuhardt declined to comment specifically on the negotiations.

But when Antioch came back with a formal contract, the offer was to lease the mill for more money and for a shorter period of time, according to Hammond.

“They rejected their own offer,” he said. “I don’t understand how they can drag me back into it and then turn me down again.”

But according to the Antioch University vice chancellor of finance, Glenn Watts, who has been handling the negotiations for Antioch, attorneys warned that the university would jeopardize its tax-free status as a nonprofit organization by giving away to a private entity an asset with value. Though academic scholarships are gifts to individuals as well, they are acceptable because they promote Antioch’s academic mission, he said.

In addition, Watts said that he could not account for the original offer of $1 a year because the offer did not come from him.

The negotiating process has been “exceedingly difficult,” and communication has not been good, he said.

“What I’m hearing is coming from people I meet on the street in Yellow Springs, but I’m the one who is responsible for this and I’m the one who needs to be talked to,” Watts said.

But Hammond said that he is losing patience with what he called the inconsistency of dealings with the university. He said that he will not likely reenter negotiations unless he can buy both the mill and the small plot of land around it.

“They took a fun project and made it a stressful situation,” Hammond said. “I’m not going to enter into business with them, and I don’t think they want to.”

While university officials wait to continue discussions about the mill, the effort led by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to remove the mill dam along the Little Miami River is also still in negotiation. Though organizers of the dam removal met with little resistance at a community meeting held at the Glen last spring, ODNR is required by law to mitigate the adverse effects the dam removal will have on the mill race because both the dam and the race are part of the Grinnell Mill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ohio Historic Preservation Office recommended over the summer that mitigation efforts be devoted to the mill, which is the most historically significant piece of the entire district and also in need of repair, preservation office representative Justin Cook said in an interview. The preservation office recommended recruiting volunteer labor and asking businesses to donate materials to aid in a community renovation project.

“Antioch prepared the National Register of Historic Places nomination, so if they didn’t think it was worth preserving, why did they nominate it?” Cook said. “They’ve got themselves a historic residence with exceptional significance and doing away with it is going to come at a price.”

ODNR has not yet responded to the preservation office’s recommendations concerning the mill, but ODNR planners have targeted this coming fall for the removal period.

Local resident David Huber lived in the mill during the 1950s, and he feels the mill’s value will be significantly reduced if its function as a working mill is lost. But he believes some people would like to see it preserved, even as a residence, since it is one of the oldest structures in Miami Township.

“If something has made it this long, I hate to see it come down just because people can’t get something done,” Neuhardt said. “There’s nothing that can’t be fixed if everyone approaches it the right way. I’m not willing to give up yet.”

—Lauren Heaton