Historic struggle
by Laura Camper
Aug 10, 2011 | 3592 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the wake of a report that the Anniston Land Company Building is becoming a danger, the Anniston City Council again discussed a proposal to immediately demolish the building.

However, the council ended up tabling the proposal.

At its work session last week, council members heard a report from a structural engineer saying the building would cost between $8 million and $10 million to renovate for use as offices. The engineer also told councilmen they needed to do something about the building soon because it was becoming a danger.

The report was at odds with a structural analysis the group Spirit of Anniston had done in 2010. That analysis, and an estimate from a contractor, indicated it would take about $98,000 to shore up the building and make it safe.

The Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation wrote a letter to the council asking them to postpone the vote until it could look into the discrepancy between the two reports.

David Schneider, executive director of the trust, came to the meeting to talk to the council about the letter. Schneider, who resigned his position on the Anniston Historical Preservation Commission earlier in the day, said the city has a historic preservation commission and the council members should turn to them for advice on issues dealing with historic properties.

“You would think that you all would go to them for counsel on some of these issues because they’re ultimately, in this case they have to approve a permit,” Schneider said.

There are a couple of things standing in the way of the city demolishing the building. It is in a locally designated historic district which under state law requires that Anniston’s preservation commission would have to issue a certificate of appropriateness. In addition, the city doesn’t own the building – it is owned by Spirit of Anniston.

City Manager Don Hoyt said the building would have to be conveyed to the city or the council would have to declare the property a nuisance before it could do anything with the building.

Councilman Herbert Palmore said that since the property was owned by Spirit, that organization should have taken care of the property.

“Why did y’all not go ahead and start construction on the revamped building?” Palmore asked Betsy Bean, director of the Spirit.

Money, answered Bean. The Spirit gets nearly all of its funding from the city. The group is charged with promoting the downtown area. The former director had found a developer who was willing to renovate the building. However, that developer didn’t finish the project. The city ended up taking ownership of the building and $180,000 in debt. It transferred ownership of the building to the Spirit and placed a lien on the building for the $180,000. That left the Spirit holding the building, but unable to sell it or finance the repairs without Council approval, Bean said.

“It’s clearly been in limbo for some time in terms of what the city needed or wanted to do with that block, whether we could put it on the market, until the whole note situation was resolved,” Bean said. “We’ve done our best with our limited resources to try and save it.”

The historic building sits at the corner of 13th Street and Moore Avenue on the block where the new judicial center is slated to be built. It has brewed controversy, as the preservation commission has refused to sign on with plans that would include its demolition. The city held a charrette and invited the public to help design a master plan of the blocks around Zinn Park, including the new justice center possibly incorporating the building into the justice center.

The structural engineer hired by the design firm did the analysis that landed the building on the councilmen’s agenda again.

Palmore said he would like to see the building demolished because it would cost the city too much to renovate it. But Schneider argued that the discrepancy between the two engineers’ reports indicated they’re might be a difference in what renovations they were proposing. In addition, he pointed out there would be a cost to the city to tear the building down. Not only would it cost about $200,000 to demolish, the city would be losing its $180,000, Schneider said.

Palmore disagreed.

“We get a guy with dynamite that knows how to place it, it’s down,” Palmore said.

“Why don’t y’all sit on it for another 10 years,” Schneider shot back. “It’ll fall down.”

Councilman John Spain, who said he would not vote to demolish the building, thought the council should vote on the proposal. He wanted to see the council send a message to those who wanted to see the building demolished that the council members were not supportive of the idea.

“If it’s our property, I don’t believe the council is going to demolish it,” Spain said. “So, it might be the best thing to go ahead and have a vote because that would clear up the issue on it at least for six months. It couldn’t be brought up again for six months.”

However, Palmore thought the proposal should be postponed until Councilman Ben Little, who didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting, could comment on the issue.

The proposal was tabled, with Spain being the only dissenting vote.

In other business the council:

-- Approved eight ordinances updating the city’s building codes to the 2009 International Building Code. It had been operating under the 2003 code.

Approved an ordinance prohibiting parking on a portion of Commerce Boulevard.

-- Vacated the alleys on the block where the new judicial center will be built. The alleys which were public throughways now belong to the owners of the adjacent properties. It was one more step toward allowing the center to be built on the property.

-- Postponed a vote on an agreement with the Anniston Museum Complex board to organize a proposed civil rights museum.

Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.

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