CONNEAUT — More than 20 years after its final book was checked out, the former Carnegie Public Library in downtown Conneaut is still awaiting an occupant.
“For sale” signs recently sprouted outside the long-vacant building at 282 State St., three years after it was purchased by a Florida-based limited liability company.
“It’s always been for sale,” said Kathy Zappitello, executive director of the Conneaut Public Library. “The owner has always been interested in selling or leasing [the old library]. What matters is finding a business plan that fits.”
And an owner with deep pockets. “It would cost a significant amount of money to rehabilitate [the building], and that’s the hurdle,” Zappitello said.
The library was one of many underwritten by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie more than a century ago. The building was erected in 1909, and closed nearly nine decades later when the current library opened its doors on Buffalo Street in 1998.
A few owners have acquired the property since then, most recently Ponyx Properties LLC of Fernandina Beach, Fla., which paid $125,000 for the structure and grounds in January 2017, according to Ashtabula County records. At that time it was reported the owner would seek a developer willing to give the big brick building a fresh start.
There have been inquires, said Zappitello, who is also president of the board of trustees for the Conneaut Foundation, a philanthropic organization that bestows grants on community-based projects.
“It has garnered attention,” she said. “It’s been looked at many, many times. There has been serious interest.”
There have been shoppers, but no buyers, and one big reason is the capital that would be needed to bring it back to life. Technology upgrades alone would be a big investment, Zappitello said.
“It needs a lot of work,” she said. “It really does boil down to money.”
A previous owner has also stripped the building of its unique fixtures, Zappitello said. What people see on the outside — a stately structure — isn’t reflected on the inside, she said.
“It doesn’t have the character, the features one would assume would be there,” Zappitello said.
The physical condition of the building prompted the city fire department to cite a former owner into court in 2015 when she failed to address problems noted by fire inspectors, including issues with the roof.
The condition of the building remains a worry, officials said.
“It’s a pretty sad situation because it’s in such disrepair,” said Jon Arcaro, Conneaut City Council president. “It’s a shame, because on the outside it’s such a beautiful, architectural structure. It’s very unfortunate for the city.”
“We have to, as a community, be concerned about [the building’s condition],” she said. “Nobody wants to see that building demolished.”
Conneaut Public Library will not acquire its predecessor, Zappitello said. The reasons the building was vacated, such as concerns over public access, still exist today,” she said.
“We feel bad, but we have no interest,” Zappitello said.
There is hope, however, that someone with a suitable vision for the property will come along, and a new chapter will be written for the old library.
“We’re trying to find the right entrepreneur with the right fit for the community and the right business model,” Zappitello said.