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Carnegie Library - Overcoming Past City Failures?

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    Posted: Jul 27 2018 at 7:40am
Architect hopes to change Middletown's failed history of turning dilapidated buildings into useful property

Dan Mayzum, a historic preservation architect, recently purchased the former Carnegie Library at the corner of First Avenue and Curtis Street in Middletown. Mayzum wants to turn the building into a brewery, restaurant, reception and banquet room and a cooperative workspace.
NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Updated 15 hours ago
By 

MIDDLETOWN — 

We all remember falling in love.

For Dan Mayzum, that experience came on May 5, 2017, after he visited the renovated Sorg Opera House in downtown Middletown. As he was driving back to his office in Glendale, Mayzum stopped at a red light at the corner of First Avenue and Curtis Street. He looked to his right and there she sat, a sight for sore eyes.

Middletown’s Carnegie Library hasn’t aged well. She’s 105 years old but doesn’t look a day older than 199.

MORE: Can a dilapidated former library become a brewery and more in Middletown? This architect says yes.

But that didn’t detour Mayzum, 49, owner of Architecture Renewal. He has learned not to judge a building — especially a library — by its cover.

“As I pulled out, I just saw her sitting here,” he said.

He then made an angelic praise of Hallelujah.

“It was one of those moments,” he said with a smile.

It was a short courtship.

Last month — 13 months after seeing the library for the first time — Mayzum bought the building and property, appraised at $95,000, for $5,000. Some consider his task impossible: Turning a dilapidated building into a useful property. There certainly is a track record of these type of unsuccessful projects throughout Middletown and beyond.

You only have to look at the former Manchester Inn, Sonshine Building and the former Lincoln School as examples. They’ve been on death row for years.

But Mayzum, who earned his masters degree in historical preservation and has 25 years experience, believes the Carnegie Library can get a stay of execution.

Middletown history: See the city through the years in black and white photos

In fact, he believes the former library is alive and well.

“She is pretty amazing,” he said while standing on the broken concrete steps. “For a preservation architect, this a dream. Save this bad boy. Bring her back to life.”

He then unlocked two padlocks, warned visitors not to step into the tar near the front door and gave a 30-minute tour. The inside looks like the building has been vacant for about 15 years. Graffiti lines some of the walls. Some wooden beams have been knocked or fallen down. Some windows have been broken.

It looks like a haunted house.

The roof, the same place Mayzum envisions using for outdoor entertaining for up to 60 people, is covered with vegetation.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you keep reminding yourself. Mayzum must be blinded by love.

“It’s going to be amazing, dynamic,” Mayzum said, sounding like a carnival barker.

He calls himself “an eternal optimist,” then added: “Anything is possible. It truly is. This is being done all over the country.”

There certainly have been success stories in Butler County downtowns.

“People are coming back,” he said of Middletown’s downtown, noting 30 businesses have recently opened.

But, he was asked, wouldn’t it be easier to bring in a wrecking ball?

“You are letting a legacy go,” he said. “You are letting a landmark go.”

You can’t argue with a man in love.

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I truly want this person to succeed here. I assume he will go to his private sector sources to gain funding for this project and not ask the city to use taxpayer money once again to fund yet another downtown building. I believe we can all agree that given the history of the Rose Furniture disaster, the Manchester Hotel fiasco, the cabinet business from the alley to a Central Ave. location, the Getz Tower question mark, the city purchase of the asbestos laden Studio Theater, the old seniors center deal inactivity, the Sunshine building and brewery talk that never materialized, the old Journal building project that has gone nowhere....and on and on and....., we can form a conclusion that we may never see this idea come to fruition. It would appear that most activity that occurs in the downtown area seems to be doomed before it starts despite the occasional success stories we read about. To add insult to injury, we also know that the city has spent millions on downtown projects and has little to show for it. Additionally, and sadly, they have used our money to finance these doomed projects without benefit to the people living here. It is blatant failure and irresponsible action shown by city leadership. If they were working in the private sector and wasted company money like this without producing any ROI, they would have been terminated long ago. Upper management and the major shareholders would not have tolerated this performance.
I'm so proud of my hometown and what it has become. Recall 'em all. Let's start over.
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