A developer who specializes in historic restoration is planning to breathe life into Ohio’s famous but vacant “Big Basket.”
Ohio developer Steve Coon heads a development firm that purchased the 20-year-old building in Newark, Ohio, at the end of December and plans to renovate it for new uses.
The seven-story, 180,000-square-foot building opened in 1997 as the headquarters of the Longaberger Co., which makes baskets and pottery. It was designed by NBBJ and Korda Nemeth Engineering to resemble the company’s biggest seller, the Longaberger Medium Market Basket.
Known locally as the “Big Basket” and highly visible from State Route 16, the former Longaberger building has been vacant since the summer of 2016, when the company moved its headquarters to its manufacturing plant in Frazeyburg, Ohio.
Founder Dave Longaberger, who had the vision for a basket-shaped building, died in 1999, and the company has had financial difficulties and layoffs in recent years due to decreased sales. It is now owned by Dallas-based JRJR Networks. Recognizing the building’s value as a local landmark, public officials have worked to get the basket building reoccupied and to get back taxes paid off.
Coon, who heads Coon Restoration and Sealants, is working with Sandvick Architects of Cleveland to restore the building and find new occupants. He has not disclosed specific details of his project but indicated he plans to keep the 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,” he said in a statement. “I have a big vision in mind to bring it back to life and keep the Longaberger story alive.”
According to Newark Development Partners, a business organization, a group of community members contributed to a fund to keep the utilities on after Longaberger moved out of the building so it wouldn’t deteriorate and a sale could take place. Its executive director, Fred Ernest, said the money raised was almost gone when the sale was completed.
“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.
According to Columbus Business First, the building and surrounding 21 acres sold for $1.2 million, a fraction of its appraised value. The buyer was Historic Newark Basket LLC.
Based in Louisville, Ohio, the buyer has restored a variety of historic structures in Ohio, including the McKinley National Memorial in Canton and the Old Historic Jail in Newark. Last year he received the Preservation Hero award from Heritage Ohio, a statewide preservation advocacy organization.
Peter Ketter, Director of Historic Preservation for Stanvick Architects, said, “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 the handle on top and the basket weave skin, which is an EIFS veneer. He added that the development team plans to nominate the building for listing on the National Register of Historic Places so the renovation could qualify for preservation tax credits. The team also wants to preserve a large interior atrium and possibly much of the cherry wood used inside, he said.
Ketter said the new owner is exploring a variety of redevelopment options, including multi-tenant office use, a hotel or a mixture of uses. “All options are on the table at this point,” he said. There is no firm timetable for construction but Ketter estimates it will take a couple of years to complete. “It is in good condition, so maybe it will move more quickly” than other restoration projects, he said. Sandvick specializes in unconventional restoration projects, and the Longaberger building is no exception, he added. “It’s one building you can define as one-of-a-kind.”