Structures Of Union Street Buildings Still Being Assessed

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Athens City Code Enforcement Officer John Paszke was hesitant to take the stage at Monday night’s meeting of the business owners from Union Street. But when he did, he was able to tell owners the status of every building that burned during an early morning fire on Sunday that tore through Jack Neal Floral, Kismet and The Union.

The insides of those buildings, Paszke said, “are pretty much gone.”

The Union Bar and Grill suffered major damage to its second floor and no longer has a roof, but hope is still there for the legendary Athens venue.

“The second floor could be rebuilt, and that can be up and running sooner than later,” Paszke said.

Owner Eric Gunn said at the meeting that he had arrived at about 5:30 a.m. and The Union had yet to be touched by fire.

“I got to watch it jump the buildings and get to The Union,” Gunn said.

While the second floor was severely damaged, the first floor mainly received water damage.

“It’s as it was except for swimming pools of water all over the place,” Gunn said.

He emphasized his commitment to bring back the venue during the meeting and said the landlord has expressed his commitment as well.

Paszke had bad news for some buildings however: Kismet is a total loss and the florist will have trouble rebuilding.

“(The Jack Neal building) is not a total loss, but when everything is said and done, it will probably be a loss,” Paszke said.

That building collapsed into the back room of Uptown Dog, taking out inventory and some equipment for the business. Owner Mary Cheadle said she would hear on Tuesday whether she could enter the building.

“It can be salvaged,” Paszke said.

The main worry for investigators and in turn for business owners was the fate of the facades of the buildings.

The former Campus Sundry building, which currently houses The Smoke Zone Smoke Shop and a rental office, is one on which investigators are focusing. Paszke said the inside of the building was destroyed but they hope the three-story brick storefront can be saved.

“We are going to do the best we can to salvage the front of that building,” Paszke said, adding that it is on a historical registry.

Because of the questionable stability of the facades, the portion of Union Street from Jackie O’s to Jack Neal Floral is closed until an assessment can be done, Paszke said. No timeline was given.

The total loss of Kismet left the business owner to wonder about the future of the Athens location.

“I don’t see Kismet opening the way it is,” said Jocelyn Williams, the owner of the business. “It’s really sad … that was the space we had been looking for in Athens, it was a beautiful space.”

Paszke confirmed that the point of origin was initially determined to be behind Kismet, as was previously reported by The Messenger.

Williams asked for help looking for a new Athens location from the community members present at Monday’s meeting. She said the business is planning on staying in Athens if at all possible.

In total, 46 residents, mostly Ohio University students, were evacuated and 19 are now indefinitely displaced, Paszke said. The university has put the students living in apartments above the buildings in hotels and is still discussing the next steps for the students.

Paszke said he had not seen a fire like Union Street’s in his time as a code enforcement officer.

No cause or damage estimate has been determined for the fire, according to the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office.