REYNOLDSBURG – After months of attempting to conduct building inspections at 54 E. Main St., Logan, and numerous complaints filed with the Ohio Department of Commerce, a hearing was held Tuesday in Reynoldsburg before the Ohio Board of Building Appeals.
The Board of Building Appeals is made up of four panelists: Robert A. Kerst, engineer; James Mulligan, fire service, chairman; Neil J. Giering, pipefitter; and Paul Beegan, architect. Attorney Alan Showalter represented the State of Ohio during the proceedings, with Geoff Eaton, Mike Taylor and Phillip Teal attending and giving testimony for the Department of Commerce, and Brian Robertson, Logan Fire Chief also giving testimony.
The panel deliberated for a few moments and voted 3-1 to uphold the adjudication order in which Nihiser must comply with the Department of Commerce and make application for plan approval with the department and allow access to the building for an inspection.
Also, no business can occupy or use the building until a certificate of occupancy has been issued. During opening statements, Showalter stated the State feels the building at 54 E. Main St., Logan, poses imminent danger because inspectors have not been able to gain access for an inspection. According to the Ohio Department of Commerce, building owners Michael Nihiser and his wife Vicki
Devol have been very reluctant in allowing inspectors into the building and have never filed an application for occupancy use change.
However, Nihiser stated he called Eaton on numerous occasions, but never received a return call. “I was trying to coordinate a time to meet, but it’s hard for me to get around,” Nihiser stated. “There were no return phone calls at all from Mr. Eaton or his office. I felt harassed. We have lived in the community all our lives.”
He also indicated he had made a public records request for several buildings in the downtown area of Logan, but never received anything in return. Mulligan reminded him those buildings had no relevance to the hearing.
Nihiser’s problems began when he leased the building to David Weber, who resides in the apartment located in the back of the building.
Weber’s intention was to open a teen center, Twilight Entertainment. However, because so many police reports were filed, and complaints filed with the Department of Commerce, the business was short-lived. Twilight Entertainment was a hangout for teenagers and many parents raised concerns of illegal activities and contacted local authorities. Once Twilight Entertainment closed, Weber, in turn, sub-leased the building to Dancing Elk, who relocated Red Door Internet Café to the site in September. However, that also was short-lived due to the many complaints and stop work orders placed on the building.
Throughout the hearing, Nihiser repeatedly stated Twilight Entertainment never opened for business, but there are Logan police reports indicating otherwise. When questioned about the Twilight Entertainment sign in the window, Nihiser referred to it as “signage.” He also stated numerous times that Red Door Internet Café never opened for business, although The Logan Daily News wrote several articles on the café and its opening.
When questioned about the two businesses being open, he kept asking inspectors, “How do you know they were open? Did you see any customers? Did you see any money exchange hands?” “My lease is with Mr. Weber,” Nihiser stated. “If he sublet to Dancing Elk, he had no permission to do so. He had no permission to open a business without talking to the state or anyone. “If he (referring to Dancing Elk) opened a business, he did so without my knowledge or written permission, said Nihiser, who then specified that Weber could not sublet to anyone unless he had written permission from him or his wife.
Nihiser indicated he had no idea that the Internet café was opening or planning to open in his building. When asked how often he drives by his building, Nihiser replied, “Just about every day.” Beegan spoke up and asked, “Mr. Nihiser, you say you drive by your building daily or just about every day – didn’t you notice the Red Door Internet Café sign in the window along with the open sign?”
“It’s signage,” replied Nihiser. “Just because there’s a sign in the window, doesn’t mean it’s a business or that it’s open.”
As the testimonies proceeded, one of the biggest concerns raised by the Department of Commerce was the construction that was done while Dancing Elk was preparing to move his business into the building.
Concerns were raised of the new office structure built within the building as well as electrical issues. Nihiser indicated to the panel that Dancing Elk moved the office structure from his previous location and there was no electric installed on the office area.
However, when looking at state’s evidence photos, one photo clearly shows lighting along the top portion of the office structure and other areas as well. “Maybe it’s from an extension cord,” Nihiser stated. “Maybe he has an extension cord running from an existing outlet in that area.” Mulligan explained if that was the fact, it also is a code violation.
While Showalter questioned Teal and Taylor, Nihiser also had an opportunity to ask questions of the two inspectors. However, Nihiser kept alluding to other subjects not relevant to the hearing. Mulligan spoke up and reminded Nihiser several times, “Mr. Nihiser, you need to stick strictly to the testimony being presented and nothing more.”
Nihiser addressed the panel and stated he and his wife were out of the country during one of the visits from the inspectors, but felt he has done nothing wrong and was being harassed. The hearing continued for over three hours with testimony from both sides, but in the end, Nihiser stated, “This is a blue-collar Appalachian town struggling for business and if the business owner has to work with an architect to open his business, he can’t afford that.”
Nihiser spoke with Eaton after the hearing to discuss the procedure and his next step to assure the building is in compliance.
In the meantime, Red Door Internet Café remains closed to the public until further notice. The Logan Daily News attempted to reach Dancing Elk and Nihiser for a statement, but received no response.