I-Team: Fund will pay to fix the Miami Valley’s worst ‘eyesores’

Residents who live among the Miami Valley’s worst ‘eyesore’ properties hope a new $500 million cleanup fund will finally solve what they feel are buildings posing risks to their safety.

On a Sidney hillside sits the empty shell of a once bustling foundry that produced goods with a world-wide reputation. Now, it’s the nightmare that neighbor Eva Cardwell awakens to each day.

She lives right across the street from the rusting junkheap of a factory, turned disaster zone.

“It’s awful. It’s awful,” said Cardwell, standing in her front yard, pointing at the trees that have grown up among the rotting structures.

And then there are the sounds at night. Cardwell says she can hear the property decaying in the moonlight.

“It’s very dangerous. We sit out here at night and we hear things falling,” Cardwell told the I-Team.

The Wagner property is 5.2 acres on Sidney’s southwest side, less than one half mile from the iconic town square restaurant The Spot. The property has been silent for 20 years. Much of the that time the city and county have been trying to find a way to clean it up to eliminate the eyesore and make way for something productive.

Doug Ahlers, Executive Director of the Shelby County Landbank, said it has been a struggle because cleanup will be an expensive proposition.

“It looks like a war zone and it’s time to clean it up for the betterment of our community,” Ahlers said.

What pains resident so much is the property was, for decades, something to be proud of, a thriving business with an international reputation.

Beginning in the 1890′s, Wagner Manufacturing produced cast iron and cast aluminum cookware sold nationwide and in Europe. Matilda Phlipot, Executive Director of the Shelby County Historical Society, said quality was what made them famous.

“For them it was not about being the cheapest cookware. It was about being the best in the world and they achieved that,” Phlipot said.

The factory’s demise, Phlipot said, came when it changed owners several times during the last 40 years. Downsizing led to lay-offs and then the plant eventually fell silent. That’s when it began its long, slow decline towards what it is today.

“It’s really, really sad because you saw men’s dreams disappear into ashes,” Phlipot said.

At the I-Team’s request, Shelby County Auditor Amy Berning pulled the historic county property books from the 1890′s. In neatly hand-written notes, the taxes paid by the property owners were recorded. Those taxes due have not been paid for 20 years.

Berning knows exactly how much is owed to Shelby County taxpayers and the likelihood any of it will be paid.

“$286,000. This has been going a long time. So there’s no one to collect that money from,” Berning said, noting the owners went out of business long ago.

Despite the ugly mess, Ahlers is optimistic about the future. When State Senate President Matt Huffman, R- Lima, inserted the $500 million funding in the new state budget this past summer, he pointed to the Sidney site as a prime example of how the money would help communities. Sidney is one of the cities in Huffman’s Senate district, stretching from Lima to just north of Springfield.

The new money leaves Ahlers anxious to make a funding pitch once the state agency in charge of the cleanup money sets requests and distribution rules.

“We’re in line for the money and we’re going to make this happen,” Ahlers said.

The Sidney factory was not the only eyesore the I-Team found.

Beyond multiple abandoned Dayton west side homes, the I-team also discovered a church that stood wide open complete with pews arranged as though the last service had just ended.

However, it is the large, old precast concrete YMCA building on Dayton Liberty Road, drawing Rep. Willis Blackshear Jr.’s attention. While the property is not collapsing, the place Blackshear one played childhood basketball and swam has now turned into a painful, vacant site attracting both trash and squatters.

“We have nobody to hold accountable because we don’t know who owns this,” Blackshear said.

Montgomery County property records, the I-Team reviewed, list Aquatic and Fitness Center as the building’s owner.

The I-Team checked the Ohio Secretary of State’s filing records and found the business was formed in January 2020. It lists no contact name or address other than the empty building’s same address. Auditor records show the Dayton Liberty Road property owners owe Montgomery County $183,966 in back property taxes.

In response, Blackshear has introduced an Ohio House bill mandating property owners keep updated contact information on file with the county Auditor, so they can be found when there is a problem.

Money aside, people who live near problem properties say they want just one thing, to have it cleaned up as soon as possible.

“Get’r done. Yesterday. For the city. For us. For the kids,” Eva Cardwell, who lives across from Sidney’s old foundry said.