ANTIOCH -- Fixing up the Hard House is proving to be nearly impossible.
The latest complication in the ongoing effort to restore the 144-year-old dilapidated downtown structure is from the state's Department of Finance, which contests Antioch's claim that the building will be for governmental use.
It was more than a year ago when a group of local preservationists and the City Council signed a sales agreement for the brick fixer-upper so the group could clean and renovate it as a public museum. Since then, that deal has been halted in its tracks because it lacks the state's approval.
"As far as I'm concerned, right now it seems like it's dead in the water," said David Brink, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Roswell Butler Hard House.
The Hard House previously was owned by Antioch's redevelopment agency. But when the state disbanded redevelopment agencies in 2011, it, like many assets, fell back into city hands. Since then, questions have been raised about the value of such city assets and what should be done with them to pay off debt.
That turns out to be the case with the Hard House.
"We had a contract ready to go, and the (city's) oversight board (for redevelopment assets) basically said they weren't interested in (the house)," Brink said. The state finance department's stance, though, differed from the oversight board.
In a July 12 letter, the finance department said that the Hard House currently is not used for a governmental purpose, should be included in the city's long-range plan and sold to a third party for profit -- not handed over to a nonprofit organization.
A written response a week later by City Manager Jim Jakel disputed that claim.
"The city has an agreement with a nonprofit to restore the deteriorating Hard House to be used as the mayor's ceremonial office, for school tours and other public functions," he said. "It seems, at the very least ... the federally registered Hard House should not be sold to the highest bidder but remain in governmental and community use."
Two appraisers and the city said the building has negligible value. Antioch bought the Hard House, recognized by the state and federal registries of historic buildings, in 1979 but has done little to restore it to its 19th-century condition. It was home of Antioch's first mayor, Roswell Butler Hard, and served as the original meeting place for officials when Antioch became Contra Costa County's first incorporated city.
For the time being, Antioch has to wait until other redevelopment dissolution disputes are resolved before submitting a long-range plan, City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland said.
The Friends' restoration plan calls for the building to be substantially renovated into a museum and public gathering place in five years. Brink said the group still has enough in donation money set aside and volunteer labor for the first phase of its plans, which includes tearing down an addition to the back part of the house made in 1923.
"We could start tomorrow," he said. "We felt like we had a great deal. So to have to wait, it's frustrating."
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.