Historic building's future is a dilemma between sentiment and financial reality

THOMAS DEAN STEWART | The Sun

The Katterjohn building, an impossible-to-miss brick structure encompassing a block of 1400 Broadway, represents a decade-plus dilemma for its ownership group, Paducah city officials and the community.

Specifically, how much is preserving the historic but dilapidated building, a former hospital erected around 1918, worth today, more than a century later?

Three stories on today's front page outline the situation at Katterjohn from the perspective of Paducah Historical Properties, LLC, city officials, and local police who are called periodically to the vacant building.

After reading the stories, you'll likely reach the same conclusions as the editorial board concerning the property's future: That there is no easy answer, no clear path forward given the tug-of-war between historic sentiment and financial realities.

Potentially painful decisions need to be made sooner rather than later at Katterjohn, before circumstances at the site worsen. The building hasn't been used since 2002, and its decay is only getting worse, while potential safety concerns deepen.

In his comments to The Sun, City Manager Jim Arndt rightly drew a parallel between Katterjohn and the Kresge building downtown. Kresge had also fallen in disrepair and was further damaged by storms earlier this year. The city has spent $675,000 on its demolition.

That would be the nightmare scenario for the sprawling Katterjohn -- an emergency that required immediate demolition and the intervention of public dollars to do it.

The solution most would prefer, including the editorial board -- preserving the building through extensive renovation -- is probably cost prohibitive. A Paducah Historical Properties member told The Sun it'd take several million dollars to renovate the former hospital, which, if anything, seems optimistic.

For comparison's sake, the figure often used in discussions about preserving the Columbia Theatre, a much smaller venue downtown, is $8 million.

It's easy to look at Katterjohn today, past the overgrowth, boarded-up windows and occasional vandalism, and imagine what once was, appreciating and respecting its prominent place in local history. Ideally, it would still be in use, home to a health care agency, business or nonprofit, serving its original purpose of benefitting people.

But time always catches up -- it's undefeated in this regard -- and facts on the ground are what they are. All stakeholders have been generous in giving Katterjohn a chance to find a benefactor.

It hasn't happened, not in 17 years.

The editorial board doesn't relish the idea of the building being torn down, its history piled into heaps and discarded.

No one should.

But the inescapable fact is there may not be another choice but to take it down, an ignominious end to a valuable piece of Paducah's past that deserved better.

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