The city’s Historic District will soon be short three more houses as members of its review board on Tuesday granted the request of a local business owner wanting to expand parking.
But they did so begrudgingly.
HRB member Elizabeth Dunn voted to approve the demolition, but she called it a “disservice” to the historic community.
“Because if we don’t do this, you’ll let these houses fall down, and that will just look worse,” she told the applicant, Matt Fredrick, the owner of Fredrick and Son Funeral Homes at 313 Church St.
“I just think it’s a shame,” she said. “I think people should have more respect for the historic community when they purchase properties within it.”
The HRB in November was presented with a plan from John Pielmeier, representing Fredrick and Son, to tear down the three houses — 317 Vigo St. and 314 and 316 Church St. — to expand parking at their downtown location.
The plan, Pielmeier told the board, is to raze the three homes to create a larger parking lot for the funeral home and to give their customers — as well as visitors to downtown Vincennes via the Lincoln Memorial Bridge — a better, more clear view to the sprawling historic home that houses Fredrick and Son.
Fredrick and Pielmeier again on Tuesday argued that the three houses, especially the one on Vigo Street, were in deplorable condition and need to be torn down.
HRB members hesitated in November at agreeing to the demolition, especially of the sister houses on Church Street, and wanted to get feedback from the community, specifically other residents living in the city’s Historic District.
A handful of people — largely members of the Vincennes/Knox Preservation Foundation — did show up last month to speak, most of them arguing to keep and preserve the homes on Church Street.
Most of them came back on Tuesday but stayed largely quiet.
Fredrick told the board that he began buying the homes back in 2009 and has made only minimal, necessary repairs as the plan all along has been to tear them down for more parking.
City inspector Brad Snider said he went to see the three houses on Tuesday; the one on Vigo, he claimed, is “beyond repair.”
“When you walk in the back door, the floor is gone,” he said. “You’re looking down into the basement.”
He also said there were holes in the ceiling and roof and plaster falling off the walls.
The other two houses, he said, need much repair as well. He cited rotting mortar and a foundation on one that is “beginning to roll.”
He said the homes’ interior did have some “historic aspects,” things like transom windows over the doors and wood trim.
“But when you look at it from the outside, what do you see that is actually historic about these houses?” Snider asked the board.
And it was then that the meeting turned somewhat volatile.
HRB president Tim Trotter said while he appreciated Snider’s opinion — as well as one provided by Fredrick from local contractor Steve Wolfe documenting a similar opinion on their condition — it was disappointing, from a historic preservation standpoint, to see buildings in the city’s Historic District be left to rot.
HRB member Sarah Wolfe, too, said she found it “curious” that a business would intentionally buy buildings in the Historic District then “choose not to maintain them.”
Fredrick then took issue with HRB members saying they were worthy of any kind of historic note.
“There is nothing historical about those houses,” he said, his voice loud, from the back of the room.
“You can’t tell people what they can do with their properties just because they’re in a historical district.”
Trotter, however, said it wasn’t about the three houses individually; the HRB’s charge is to protect the entire district.
“They all have a measure of historic value especially when put together,” Trotter said.
“So can you appreciate how frustrating it is when we see someone intentionally letting them go?” he asked. “It’s one of the most frustrating things this board has to deal with.”
Dunn, too, argued that Fredrick knowingly purchased homes in the Historic District, and while she understood their parking plight, it’s not a problem foreign to any downtown business.
It’s imperative, she argued, that people begin respecting the Historic District if it’s to be saved.
“Communities like New Harmony are a prime example of how well preservation works when everyone is preservation-minded,” she said. “Our history is our biggest asset, but people in town seem to either ignore or forget that.
“And if we keep depleting it, there will be nothing left.”
But one thing they could all agree on is that in rare cases, with houses that are seemingly beyond repair, sometimes razing them to make way for something else — something arguably better — is, in fact, the best option.
Pielmeier, himself, pointed to the board’s decision two years ago to allow Vincennes University to tear down four square blocks of homes in the Historic District just south of campus to make way for the French Village, a New Orleans-inspired student housing project.
HRB members agree that it represents a vast improvement to that neighborhood.
Dunn said she once felt unsafe walking in that neighborhood; those homes, and the crimes that often occurred within them, were a “stain” on the entire district.
“Those apartments are such an improvement to that area,” she said.
City councilman Brian Grove, also a resident of the Historic District, agreed and argued that the benefit of allowing for the demolition of the three houses outweighed the benefit of forcing them to remain, likely only to fall into a more serious state of disrepair.
Razing them, he said, would open up visibility from Vigo Street and onto Fredrick and Son Funeral Homes, one he said was “a business that has operated as long as we are old.”
“It would make more visible a property that people can look at and say, ‘If they can operate in the Historic District, then so can we,’ ” Grove said.
Grove, too, pointed to the success of the French Village.
“I hated to see all those houses go,” he said, “but when we go by there at night now, the difference it has made in that community is amazing.”
Fredrick, too, came armed with an improved plan for the parking lot the funeral home wants to build. They’ve hired John Sprague, who serves as city engineer but who also operates his own firm, Sprague Engineering, to design it.
It will add about 50 more spaces for the funeral home but will also include green space, trees and shrubs, things to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
Pielmeier, too, said they’ve spoken with residents living in that area, businesses, too, and encouraged them to all to use the parking lot whenever the funeral home isn’t.
It will also feature a handful of places to sit and enjoy a few minutes outdoors, he said.
“It will have green space, lighting,” he told the HRB. “It won’t just be a parking lot. It will improve the look of the neighborhood.”
It will, however, for one year be just gravel, allowing for the area to settle, he added.
Pielmeier called the project “progress” for Fredrick and Son Funeral Homes, and he argued that the city should do more to help businesses who choose to remain downtown.
“The history is fine, but we can’t live that with the way businesses are run today,” he said, “not with the amount of business we do and the cost.
“You have to make it convenient for people,” he said.
In the end, HRB members thought allowing for the demolition better than allowing the homes to continue to deteriorate; Wolfe, however, did vote in opposition.
For her, she said, it’s as much about a larger housing issue. The city needs affordable housing for young people, she said.
Dr. Alan Snyder, who owns a business in that square block, said he understood the HRB’s frustration; he served on the board for 12 years.
Moving forward, he said, the city needs to begin thinking about how to work together to preserve what is left of the Historic District.
Other communities, he said, are excelling as they make historic preservation efforts a priority. Vincennes needs to figure out how to do the same and instill pride in those who live and work within its boundaries, he said.
“Regardless of what happens tonight, we all need to move forward and find a way,” he said.
And Trotter agreed.
“This isn’t personal,” he told Fredrick. “It’s just a frustration that this board has had for a long time in trying to maintain the historic integrity of this community.
“We keep losing buildings, and before you know it, there will be no Historic District left.”
Vincennes police are asking for help from the public in identifying the suspect in the city’s only violent cold case.
During a Wednesday morning press conference, Det. Sgt. Stacy Reese and Chief Robert Dunham released a forensic composite sketch of the man suspected of committing a 2008 battery and sexual assault.
In the early hours of Nov. 21, 2008, officers responded to a report of a home intruder where they found the young woman residing in the apartment at 201 W. St. Clair had been raped and physically battered.
“She was a 21-year-old who had come here to further her goals in life,” Reese said of the survivor of the attack who sustained “significant physical injuries” during the assault.
DNA evidence collected years ago during the investigation was recently sent to Parabon NanoLabs — a DNA technology company headquartered in Virginia — to create a composite profile of the person of interest in the case.
Once received, it took the lab only about two weeks to create a sketch of the suspect that Dunham says will likely be “close to spot-on,” thanks to the advancements in technology.
It is, in part, the improvements in DNA forensics that led the police department to reach out to Parabon — that, and the availability of funding to cover the cost.
“When it comes to something with DNA, a lot of it is costly, and we have found the money to take the final step to get this composite,” Dunham said.
He and Reese emphasized, however, that the work of trying to solve this violent crime never ceased.
“We did not stop investigating. We always have lulls in information, but it never left our minds,” said Dunham.
Though detectives will continue to work the case, the chief says he believes releasing the sketch to the public will help jog the memories of those who knew the suspect or the victim of the crime, possibly providing new leads in the case.
“If people were in our community during this time period, think about where you were and who you were with. If you personally knew the victim, think about who was around you.
“We think people knew this suspect, and we need the help of the people who were here then,” said Dunham.
The chief urges members of the public to closely look at the images of the suspect, looking for any familiarity in the face instead of just brushing it off.
“Stop. Look at it. Put it in your minds,” he said. “Think about it. Does this remind you of somebody you know?”
Members of the public who were in Vincennes around Thanksgiving of 2008 are asked to pay particularly close attention to the composites of the suspect — one of which shows what the man may have looked like at age 25 and another at age 35.
“Any lead is never too small,” Reese said, noting that the public is often helpful during investigations.
Anyone with information regarding this case is urged to contact Reese at VPD by emailing email@example.com or calling 812-882-1630.
Knox County now has a full-time director for its Emergency Management Agency after three local entities have approved an inter-local agreement.
The county commissioners first signed the deal last week; members of the city’s Board of Works and then the county council followed this week.
John Streeter, a Vincennes firefighter, has served as the county’s part-time EMA director for years. He often works a full-time schedule, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the county has only ever paid him for part-time work, or $15,000 per year.
The pandemic, officials say, has shown how important the position is as Streeter has worked alongside county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart and other healthcare workers and first-responders for months in the fight against COVID-19.
And a federal grant — one obtained through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — reimburses the county for what it pays out for the director’s position.
But even more funds — up to $30,000 — are available for a full-time EMA director, and by bringing the City of Vincennes on board through an inter-local agreement, county officials can make the position full-time and receive the full grant amount.
The inter-local agreement allows the county to keep half its $15,000 investment, or about $7,500, with the rest, or about $22,000, going to the city to reimburse it for what Streeter is already paid as a city firefighter.
It won’t cover quite half what the city pays Streeter, but it’s near enough, the mayor has said.
Members of the city’s Board of Works made easy work of the approval Monday.
The county council, however, was a bit slower to approve the agreement on Tuesday.
Before moving to vote on it during the council’s regular meeting held at the Pantheon, 428 Main St., president Bob Lechner called for a discussion he hoped would clear up some confusion about the EMA position and the funding to cover it, as described in the agreement.
Councilman David Culp and Lechner both expressed some apprehension about what could happen in the future, should some part of the equation ever change, such as the end of grant funding for the position.
“What happens if the grant ceases or is not approved?” Lechner asked, to which councilman Harry Nolting pointed out that, per the agreement, there is no financial impact on the county.
For more than 30 minutes Culp and Lechner lobbed ‘what if’ questions to county attorney Andrew Porter, looking to uncover any possible way the county or its taxpayers could be negatively affected by entering into the agreement.
Culp said that while he understands there would be no cost to the county in the immediate future, his concern is about what may happen if the Homeland Security grant is eliminated years down the line.
“How do we have a guarantee that five years from now we don’t start getting billed?” Culp asked.
Tensions in the room continued to escalate when Culp and Lechner questioned the logistics of having a Vincennes firefighter as the full-time EMA director.
“I can’t see how this would work if the EMA director by title becomes a non-employee of the Vincennes Fire Department,” Culp said.
But Nolting posited that it’s not really a county concern.
“I don’t think it affects us. It doesn’t matter to us if he’s a fireman or not. It’s the city’s agreement,” he said.
Mayor Joe Yochum, who was in attendance at Tuesday night’s county council meeting, tried to simplify the issue, noting that the agreement would merely reimburse the city for the countywide EMA work John Streeter is currently doing, often while on duty for the city.
“John (Streeter) does EMA work anyway, and he’s doing it on the city’s dime. It was brought up to me that this (grant) is a way to get reimbursed,” said a visibly-frustrated Yochum.
“I don’t care if we don’t get a dime. I will allow whomever the EMA director is to do this job for the benefit of the entire county so long as I’m mayor.”
But the questions and frustrations continued for several minutes, with additional commentary from Streeter himself as well as county commissioner Trent Hinkle, before Nolting asked that members of council simply focus on the present.
“All the what-ifs in the future are beyond the scope of this resolution. We’re in the weeds here about what happens down the road,” he said.
“Let’s focus on the resolution itself. It doesn’t put us on the hook for any dollars. It helps the city, but it doesn’t harm the county,” Nolting said.
In the end, the resolution passed unanimously.