Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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February 4, 2014

JSF building sold

Funeral home owner Marshall Steen buys 4th downtown building

ASHLAND — The Jesse Stuart Foundation has sold its landmark downtown building to funeral home owner Marshall Steen.

The foundation will not vacate immediately, however. The sale contract calls for it to remain as a tenant for at least 12 months while it looks for more affordable quarters.

The 30,000-square-foot historic former post office building was too expensive to keep up in a time when the publishing industry is struggling, said James M. Gifford, CEO and senior editor at the foundation.

“It’s a poor economy. In the last decade our revenue has declined 25 percent. People don’t buy books as much,” Gifford said Tuesday.

At the same time, expenses have climbed for building upkeep and publishing operations. Gifford said he had cut staff and production expenses and had worked without salary or compensation for the past five years.

“I want to make one thing clear — we are not going out of business,” Gifford said. “We are making a move to position ourselves for the future. The only way we would sell is with the agreement to stay for 12 months to look for a more cost-effective business environment for the Jesse Stuart Foundation.”

It is possible the foundation will lease space in the building after the year is up, he said.

Steen said he doesn’t have definite plans for the building but thinks its spacious open design is suitable for ballroom, wedding or convention use.

Upper floors house offices and Steen said he probably will keep that arrangement.

Steen does plan one almost immediate and very visible addition. “There will be two cannons out front by spring,” he said. Steen has for years operated a business making authentic reproduction Civil War cannons. He won’t move the cannon business there, however.

The building at 1645 Winchester Ave. originally was the post office; the foundation bought it 15 years ago.

Before that the foundation was quartered in the building now known as the Skytower, the former Ashland Oil Tower.

“It was not an easy decision for me or the board,” Gifford said. “But our business is not maintaining a historical building, it’s publishing. And the building, rather than assisting, it was dominating our business enterprise.”

Steen recently bought three other downtown buildings, the L Style Salon and Spa at 1516 Winchester Ave., the vacant building next door to it at 1510 Winchester, and the former Ashland News Building at the corner of 14th and Winchester.

The salon is remaining and Steen will open an antique shop in the vacant building. Steen said he would renovate the Ashland News building and make it available to another business.

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