Union Awaits Roof, Employees Receive Some Fundraiser Money

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Nearly one month after fire devastated a block of West Union Street in Athens, a sense of progress is being made.

One lane of traffic is now open on West Union Street, and Jackie O’s Public House — with the help of the Not Guilty food cart — has opened with a limited menu and a little less space.
As for the other buildings, the waiting game continues, according to officials and business owners.

“We’re waiting for a roof to get put on, we’re still working through everything,” said Eric Gunn, owner of The Union. Gunn said a structural engineer and an architect are working on plans for the new roof and until that is in place, rehabilitation is still on hold.
“We’re cleaning up the upstairs and things are coming along, but we won’t know anything about time frames or even the full extent of the damage until we can put a roof on,” Gunn said.

A cause has not been determined for the fire that started in the early hours of Nov. 16, according to a spokesperson for the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office. The origin of the fire is thought to be behind the building that housed Kismet, though it is still unclear whether the fire started within the building or in the alley behind it.

Owners of that building have said it’s a total loss, and are searching for a new place to start over. The owners of Jack Neal Floral — which was also deemed a partial, if not total loss — have decided they will find a new building for their business, according to co-owner Natasha Neal.

Structural engineers and other construction experts are still looking at the properties to determine what can be done to save the facades of the historic buildings including Jackie O’s, The Union, Kismet, Bobcat Rentals (the former Campus Sundry building) and Jack Neal Floral predominantly.

“We’re still not sure whether we can save (the facades),” said John Paszke, code enforcement officer for the city of Athens. Even if the engineers say the facades can be saved, it’s up to the building owners to decide how much they’re willing to put into it.
“That kind of thing isn’t covered by insurance,” Paszke said. “The problem is multiple ownership and it’s a matter of everyone being on the same page.” The city doesn’t have any say in whether the buildings stay up or come down, he said.

Some employees of the businesses within the block have been able to find work, and even those that haven’t were able to apply for some of the nearly $50,000 that has been currently raised through the crowdfunding site Go Fund Me.

The employee relief fundraiser was started by Pete Shooner, who said in a post to the Go Fund Me page on Wednesday that the first round of relief checks began being disbursed on Monday.
“I know each of them would want me to pass along their sincere gratitude for what each of you did to support them and this community through this difficult time,” Shooner wrote.

More than $45,000 has been disbursed to about 70 people, Shooner said. The money was given through an application process which included consideration of the average hours each employee typically works, according to Gunn. An account was opened at People’s Bank to manage the funds, and to allow individual cashier’s checks to be issued to each recipient. The bank offered to conduct the service free of charge, Shooner wrote.

For The Union employees, whether they took some of the money, found other work or both, Gunn plans to meet with them all over Christmas dinner next week to discuss the next phase of the process.
“The Union staff is very much a family more than it is a place to work,” Gunn said. “Anything that I can do for our employees, I will.”