Commission approves demolition of properties for downtown projects

Published 5:56 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

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The Historic Landmarks Commission will allow several downtown buildings to be demolished, helping to pave the way for the construction of a new library and a downtown festival park.

The commission voted unanimously for a certificate of appropriateness to allow for the former Brandon House Furniture store at 219 W. Washington St. that was heavily damaged by a tornado in August 2020 to be taken down to pave the way for the festival park site. A building on the corner of West Washington and South Saratoga streets was also heavily damaged by the tornado and has already been torn down.

It also voted unanimously for a certificate of appropriateness to allow the demolition of buildings at 309 and 321 W. Washington St. to allow for building a new downtown library.

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The staff report states that the former Brandon House Furniture building is not architecturally or historically significant and demolishing it would have little to no impact on the district’s character.

Gerry Jones, director of capital projects and buildings, said the city plans to salvage as much of the material as possible, and it would likely be taken down in February and March, with design for the park completed by summer. He said the city is also prepared to execute a contract for the full design of the festival park and could have it ready by spring or early summer.

Vice Chairwoman Mary Austin Darden said she hoped the materials from the old Brandon House Furniture building, particularly its mansard slate roof, would be saved for those who might need them in the future. Jones said that would be the case.

The festival park project has funding through the city’s Capital Improvement Program and Plan, with $150,000 that has been set aside in the current fiscal year for a festival/events venue and Market Hall. An additional $250,000 is slated for fiscal 2023 and $300,000 for fiscal 2024, but those amounts will have to be approved by council when it approves subsequent CIPs.

The staff report noted that the city plans to use some of the slate tile for the historic train station on North Main Street, and it will also be available for use by the public by request.

To move forward with the new downtown library, the city wants to demolish two buildings and another metal outbuilding at 309 and 321 W. Washington St. so it can further design preparation and in the next year, solicit construction bids.

Though the buildings are not in danger of being condemned and are not unsafe or hazardous, the roofs on them leak and the buildings’ sites are known to flood, according to the staff report. They are also “not of great architectural significance” when compared to other residential or commercial buildings in the area, the staff report states, and demolishing them “would not adversely affect the character of the Historic District,” since the new library will have elements of the area’s history and design incorporated into it.

Jones said there is some terracotta tile that it will salvage for public use. He noted that the new library, which will be about two-and-a-half times the size of the current 14,500-square-foot one, is in the 20% design stage.

“While it is preferable to protect and maintain contributing buildings in the district, the buildings are not distinct or important enough to outweigh the benefits the new library will bring,” the staff report states. “Additionally, the new library will extend additional services to the community through educational programs, technological assistance, outreach, indoor meeting spaces, children’s play areas and green spaces, as well as the services libraries are most known for, books, reading materials, digital and computer services and other forms of media.”

By next December, the city hopes to be soliciting bids for the construction. Jones said the $23.3 million library is about two-thirds funded.

Commissioner George Bailey Jr. asked about potential impacts to homes on Jackson Street. Jones said the library design addresses Jackson Street, with no negative effects, and that it creates another entrance point from the neighborhood to the library. It will also have a strong pedestrian connection to the neighborhood, Jones said.

The entrances and the lobbies are designed to open themselves to the neighborhood, Jones noted, and Chuck Wray, a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, said there will be a green space buffer between the parking lot and Jackson Street and the nearby neighborhood.

Bailey said the festival park is a “no-brainer.”

“This is definitely going to create a lot of synergetic activity for us,” Bailey said, “improving and enhancing the business downtown and revitalization.”