Sammy King has an agreement to purchase the century-old building from nonprofit Harsha Behavioral Center, which in recent times has used it for autism services.
King’s goal is to assist local small businesses.
“We’re always looking for opportunities like this,” King said last week. “We like the building, and once I looked at it, I saw opportunities. The No. 1 thing is to preserve the building and the structure. You can’t find something like this.
“What we thought we would do is provide opportunities for small businesses, and we can maintain the building. We’re not looking at making a huge profit, but to make enough money to maintain the building. And then over time, restore it better and bring more opportunity to this neighborhood.”
King said it’s not his plan at this time to put residences in the building.
He said music or dance instructors or craft stores are examples of some potential fits, and the building’s layout would also lend itself to a haunted house use during Halloween season.
The Area Plan Commission last week voted 8-0 in favor of the rezoning, and it’s on the City Council’s Monday agenda.
Area Plan Commission member Joy Payne noted the absence of a grocery store in the neighborhood, and with the closure of a Sav-A-Lot store on Diamond Avenue, the Stringtown area has become a food desert.
King did not rule out pursuing a grocery for either the Henry Reis building or its front lot, and he agreed the neighborhood could use one.
Evansville’s school system built Henry Reis in 1914, as the city’s North Side was expanding. It replaced the older, crumbling Olmstead School.
An expansion in the mid-1920s nearly tripled the size of Henry Reis. The building’s design elements are similar to those of Bosse High School, which opened in 1924.
Henry Reis closed as a school in 1968, a few years after nearby Evans School opened. In future years, it was known as the North Annex and used as an alternative high school.
It also housed some programs that were relocated to the Southern Indiana Career & Technical Center, upon that facility’s opening in 2007.
The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. sold it in 2012. The current assessed value of the building and land is $237,900, according to the county assessor’s website.
Matt Lehman, an Evansville construction consultant assisting King, said the Henry Reis facility’s condition is in good condition and has an entrance accessible for people with disabilities.
He’s not aware of any neighborhood opposition to the rezoning. No one spoke against it during the recent Area Plan Commission meeting. King’s ownership is contingent upon final approval by the City Council.
“The phone calls I fielded from neighbors, they’re concern was what would be going in there,” Lehman said. “But once I told them Sammy’s plans and that he’s community-focused, they were good with it.”