Leadership Academy idea may help fill vacancies

The members of the Huntington County Vacant Buildings Committee are (from left) Terry Miller, Malcolm McBryde and Dessie Krumanaker, who founded the group from a project birthed during a Huntington County Leadership Academy class. They seek to find occupants for the county’s vacant commercial buildings.
The members of the Huntington County Vacant Buildings Committee are (from left) Terry Miller, Malcolm McBryde and Dessie Krumanaker, who founded the group from a project birthed during a Huntington County Leadership Academy class. They seek to find occupants for the county’s vacant commercial buildings. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

An idea that grew out of a Huntington County Leadership Academy think tank is taking aim at filling empty buildings in Huntington and throughout the county.

Simply called the “Huntington County Vacant Buildings Committee,” the group is looking for commercial buildings that are without occupants, with the idea of connecting them with businesses that are seeking a spot to land.
The group is made up of three Leadership Academy graduates, Dessie Krumanaker, Malcolm McBryde and Terry Miller, who came together during the 2018 academy in March.

“The leadership group brainstormed for ideas that would help the community,” explains Miller. “The ideas were narrowed down, and I think four or five class projects came out of that, and our group decided on this need.”

As part of their project, they launched an online list of vacant commercial buildings in Huntington County. The list includes structures located in downtown Andrews, Huntington, Markle, Roanoke and Warren.

The list officially went online Oct. 19, located at www.huntingtonpub.lib.in.us/vacancies, on website space hosted by the Huntington City-Township Public Library. There are currently 21 properties on the list.

Krumanaker is employed with Our Sunday Visitor, McBryde is assistant director of operations at Huntington City-Township Public Library and Miller, a realtor for Ness Bros. Realtors and Auctioneers, is also a Huntington County councilman. After the Leadership Academy concluded, the three decided to combine their talents and continue with the Vacant Buildings Committee, largely because they each had a passion to see the empty downtown spaces become vibrant with viable business again.

“We were definitely likeminded in where we were thinking that this could develop, because there are so many commercial properties that do sit empty and under-utilized,” Krumanaker says, “and only a portion of them are captured by the real estate agents and are up for sale.”

Miller says many commercial properties don’t get on the MLS – or multiple listing service, so people don’t know they are available.

“If a business would come into town and say, ‘I need a building for X number of square feet – I’m going to start a business and that’s what I’m looking at; what’s available?’” he says. “Well, there was, until this project, no place to go find that encompassed all those buildings.”

The properties on the vacant buildings list are all commercial – not industrial – properties, the group preferring to leave the larger facilities to county economic development entities to list and fill. But they hope others will put a link to the list on their websites to help spread the word.

Krumanaker says she would like to see her hometown return to how life was when she was the age of her children.

“I grew up in Huntington, so when I grew up the community was much more vibrant,” she says. “Obviously, times have changed and we’re moving back towards that. I am raising three boys and I plan to remain in this community, and I would like to see them have the same types of experiences with our downtown and our local businesses that I did.”

McBryde says the recent resurgence in downtown businesses in the state is something that he wants to see happen in Huntington County as well. He says the vacant buildings in the county have become recent targets of “squatters,” and many of them tend to fall into disrepair because of disuse.

“When you come to a place like Huntington, there seems to be a lot of potential, but it just seems like nobody is taking advantage of it,” McBryde says. “With historic buildings and the situation downtown, with the way it’s set up, you can see a couple of businesses that are taking advantage of that, and the fact that people are more and more liking to go to the downtown area. My interest is to promote that.”

During their research, the group discovered that some cities and towns require that vacancies be reported when they’ve been empty for 90 days or more. Krumanaker says the reports are handled by the community attorney or plan commission, which makes them public and monitors them. Huntington County does not have such an ordinance.

The Vacant Buildings Committee is seeking information to add more properties to the list, giving interested buyers or renters as much information as possible on what’s out there. They send out an email once per month to area realtors, municipalities and others in the community, but they say there are others they are also trying to reach.
“We hope that it continues to evolve and be maintained by the use of such city and county officials and realtors in an email database,” Miller says. “Even small-town leaders, because it’s meant to be for the whole county.”

To add a vacant building to the list, contact McBryde at the Huntington Branch of the Huntington City-Township Public Library, 356-0824, or send an email to vacancies@hctpl.info.