ASHTABULA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is removing hazardous waste and securing the former Carlisle’s store on Main Avenue, causing the city to close a portion of the southbound lane of Main Avenue.
The EPA anticipates the work will take 25 days to complete, said Rachel Bassler, spokesperson at the U.S. EPA’s Chicago office.
City Manager Jim Timonere said the building is dangerous and must be secured to prevent people from going inside.
“There’s asbestos everywhere, even in the air (inside),” he said. “The EPA is sealing the building, using metal roofing materials to cover the windows and cinder blocks to cover the first-floor windows.”
The EPA worked on the back and sides of the building Tuesday.
Bassler said the EPA will remove hazardous substances from the building, including containers of chemicals and thermostats with mercury switches.
“Asbestos-containing materials will be left in the building,” she said. “The agency will board up and seal doors and windows.”
Everyone who goes inside the building is required to wear a respirator and hazmat suit for protection, Timonere said.
Local officials have been working with the EPA for two years, hoping it will help the city demolish the gravely deteriorated building.
“Once the building is secure, it’s a matter of getting $1.2 million to demolish it,” Timonere said. “The city continues to hunt for grants to demolish it.”
Timonere said there’s little chance the building will fall down on its own because it is “structurally sound but dangerous environmentally.”
“We are left to ultimately demolish it,” Timonere said.
For many years, the city tried to work with the building’s former owner, Gary Harris, formerly of Conneaut. City officials served him with code violations, to no avail. He refused to sell the building and threw roadblocks at the city’s efforts to clean up or raze the building.
Three years ago, the state took possession of it because of unpaid taxes.
City Solicitor Michael Franklin has said the EPA takes the position that a state or city that takes possession of a property because of unpaid taxes is an innocent owner and is not liable for environmental clean-up liens.
The Carlisle’s store that local people remember started
as the Tyler and Carlisle dry goods store in the mid-19th century in the Ashtabula Harbor.
The Harbor became part of Ashtabula
in 1877, but the first link with downtown wasn’t made until 1882, when horse trolleys started service, according to “People and Places,” by Evelyn Schaeffer and Richard Stoner.
In 1874, the store moved to a new brick building at 127 Main Ave.
By the end of the century, the Tyler family left the business and Carlisle entered into partnership with Miles Allen in 1911. They formed Carlisle Company Department stores at 163-165 Main Ave.
The business expanded many times as the third generation of Carlisles — Ted, Ford and Tyler — took complete ownership in the 1950s and ‘60s, according to Schaeffer and Stoner.
However, many Main Avenue retail businesses did not survive the arrival of the Ashtabula Mall in 1992.
In 1993, Carlisle’s opened a clothing store in the mall, but later that year it entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to news reports at the time.
Since the store’s closing, the freeze/thaw cycle of northeast Ohio has taken its toll, city officials have said.
tried to raise the money to remodel and redevelop the building and its property, but all were blocked by Harris.