County to pursue restoration grants for Hearn Building

MD-Hearn building collapse_3x
CAMBRIDGE—The decision was announced at the County Council Nov. 3 meeting that Dorchester County will pursue grant applications available for stabilization or restoration of the Hearn Building in downtown Cambridge, which suffered a partial collapse of its southern wall on Oct. 28.

There were no injuries suffered in the wall collapse, which occurred at approximately 8:00 p.m. on the 28th, but the collapse caused considerable damage to the Tolley Theater property next door, forcing Gene and Shirley Tolley to vacate their residence, located in the building. The Tolleys attended the County Council meeting, where Gene Tolley gave an impassioned plea to demolish the Hearn Building.

“I came down here to plead,” said Mr. Tolley, “I need help with the 500 block of Race Street.” Mr. Tolley said that the Hearn Building, the neighbor to his Tolley Theater building, “hasn’t been in good repair, it’s been neglected, it’s been foreclosed on—I don’t have five years for money to be approved, grants to be approved…the building should be taken down. Has everybody looked at that building? It’s just waiting for a little bit of wind, or somebody to lean against it, to finish the rest of my building.”

About plans to renovate and repurpose the building, Mr. Tolley said, “I’ve heard this before, I don’t want to hear it anymore. The building needs to go, along with maybe some more buildings—you know what I’m talking about. But please don’t leave us out in the cold.”

“The thing is, the building has been sitting there for so many years,” added Mrs. Tolley. “Just deteriorating. And now that I look into it from our second floor, the bottom floor actually has holes in it and everything is falling into the basement (of the Hearn Building) into 12 feet of water. It hasn’t been months or a year, it has been years that nobody’s been trying to do anything with that building. And now we’re paying for it. We’re basically homeless—we can’t stay there, that’s our apartment, that’s where we live. Now we’ve got to get out and find a place to live while it’s being condemned. It’s just ridiculous.”

“We’re trying to expedite the process,” said Council President Ricky Travers, “We have staff working on it. The incident happened Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday we’ve been looking at options and opportunities. It is not our building (the county), it is not the city’s building, it is a defunct LLC building as everybody knows, and it has fallen apart and I feel for you very much, and we will try to get business back to normal down there as much as we can. We don’t have taxpayer money to do it, we’re trying to find grant money to use to shore that building up, at least for public safety, for your safety.”

“What is the timeline, though,” asked Mrs. Tolley.

“We’re hoping for an aggressive timeline,” replied Mr. Travers. “We have done all the paperwork, up to tonight, but we could not do anything until council met tonight, and we will be releasing those requests tonight or tomorrow morning.”

Mr. Travers said that the county representatives have been in conversation with all of the potential grant funding agencies. “They have told us to apply. We are trying to be aggressive, we have tried to expedite the process and see what options are available to take care of some of this.”

The Banner approached the county grant monitor office, and have been told that the grant opportunities being pursued are DHCD – Community Legacy Emergency grant  for $500,000; an MHAA-MHT Emergency grant for $100,000; a Preservation Maryland Emergency Grant for $5,000; and a National Trust for Historic Preservation Emergency grant for $10,000.

“There is no money available for demolition,” Mr. Travers said. Estimates for demolition, if an option, vary between $250,000 and up to $750,000, and the council stressed the point that this would have to be done with taxpayer dollars, of which there is no funds in the budget to cover that amount. “The grant money is earmarked for preservation, shoring up, whatever. It would be a very, very expensive demolition.”

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