It’s hard enough on a community when a major employer relocates, taking jobs and tax revenue with it. And it’s certainly no picnic when that company leaves behind a vacant building that, for a while at least, it seemed like only Yogi Bear might love.
In Newark, OH, the iconic former Longaberger building—designed to resemble one of the company’s baskets—has been vacant since the summer of 2016, when the company moved its headquarters to its manufacturing plant in Frazeyburg, OH. It’s taken three years to find a buyer for the unique building, but one has finally come forward: The facility and 21 acres around it were recently purchased by developer Coon Restoration for $1.2 million, in addition to payment of Longaberger’s back taxes on the building, more than $800,000.
Quite a bargain, considering the building’s original price tag was $7.5 million. The 180,000-square-foot basket was built in 1997 for $32 million by designer NBBJ and Korda Nemeth Engineering. It was designed to resemble Longaberger’s biggest seller, the “Medium Market Basket.”
It was a stressful three years waiting for a buyer, as the Newark community had to rally together to preserve its beloved “Big Basket” while it was on the market. Public officials assisted with the payment of the building’s back taxes, and community members collected funds to pay off the empty building’s utility bills to prevent it from falling into a state of disrepair, according to Newark Development Partners. Now, the community can relax knowing the basket building is in good hands.
To the relief of Newark residents and lovers of weird architecture, the developer has no plans to “take the handles off” the seven-story building.
Coon Restoration specializes in restoring and renovating old buildings into new residential and commercial spaces. The developer will work with Sandvick Architects of Cleveland to transform the building for a new use, and plans to preserve the building’s basket-shaped exterior.
“The Longaberger Basket Building is known all over the world, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to preserve and renovate this building and put it back into use,” said Steve Coon, principal of Coon Restoration. “I have a big vision in mind to bring it back to life and keep the Longaberger story alive.”
Peter Ketter, Director of Historic Preservation for Stanvick Architects, told Columbus Business First: “It’s going to continue to look like a basket. The owner is excited about the iconic nature of the building and sees it as a positive.”
This includes keeping the handle on top and the basket weave skin, an EIFS veneer. The development team plans to nominate the building for listing on the National Register of Historic Places so it qualifies for preservation tax credits, and hopes to preserve a large interior atrium and possibly much of the cherry wood used inside, according to Ketter. A variety of redevelopment options are being considered, including multi-tenant office use, a hotel, or a mixture of uses.
“We are very excited to help facilitate this transaction and make the Longaberger Basket Building a viable economic development asset again,” said Newark Mayor Steve Hall.