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Developer gives look inside Ben Hur

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The developer renovating the Ben Hur Building gave a look inside Friday, as plans remain on track to transform the downtown landmark into a hotel, apartments and retail space.

Light from a flashlight shined through a stained glass window in the lobby next to a directory board still listing the names of long-vacated tenants. A row of sinks remained in a former hair salon, where drawers hung open on styling stations.

“It is a credit to Crawfordsville that this building is as intact as it is because when I get these buildings, everything’s usually gone,” said Jon Anderson of AP BenHur LLC, which gained ownership of the site last year.

Construction is slated to begin next year on the 57-room hotel with 10 apartments and ground-floor retail space. The building could open as early as 2021.

The state awarded the project a $100,000 historic renovation grant to fund the renovation and preservation of the building’s exterior. Anderson has also received state funding to turn a vacant factory in Union City, Indiana and a former Evansville YMCA building into housing lofts.

“I’m a small-town kid and a lot of communities have these kind of buildings that have been sitting empty for decades, and rehabbing a building like this completely changes a downtown,” he said.

Anderson ushered a group of revitalization advocates through part of the building, which dates back before World War I. The group was taking part in the Indiana Main Street Community Exchange, a daylong networking event. Tours were also slated for the Durham Home on West Main Street and the Masonic Temple.

Built as the headquarters of the Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur, a fraternal insurance company named after Gen. Lew Wallace’s best-known novel, the building housed offices for physicians, attorneys and other professionals for decades.

“I don’t remember what floor I used to come to the orthodontist here,” Heather Shirk, executive director of the Montgomery County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said as she walked through a dark corridor of empty rooms on the second floor. 

Money checks sat plastered in the steps. The terrazzo floors were caked with debris and a chunk of glass was missing from the door of a psychologist’s office. The letters “BH” were on the door handles.

“It’s nice to see them save something you can’t build today,” said Jeff Souder of Warren, Indiana, as he and his wife, Becky, ended the tour.

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