Anniston officials debate fate of Land Company building
by Laura Camper
Feb 22, 2012 | 3065 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A meeting of Anniston’s Historical Preservation Commission and the City Council to discuss the fate of the Anniston City Land Company building brought almost a full complement of commission members, but only two councilmen to the table Tuesday.

Councilmen Herbert Palmore and Jay Jenkins attended the meeting. Jenkins had requested the meeting at the Feb. 14 council meeting, after a city inspector cited the building as unsafe and recommended that it be demolished. The council postponed a request from City Manager Don Hoyt to comply with the citation, saying it wanted to hear from the historical commission first.

The building, constructed in 1889, was one of three buildings around Zinn Park meant to entice investors to the area. It has been empty for years. It wound up in the care of Spirit of Anniston in 2002 after a failed business deal between the city and a developer.

Spirit, which is funded by the city to promote the city’s downtown, did not have the money to maintain the building. When Betsy Bean, executive director of Spirit, became aware of a leak in the building, she alerted the city, but it was never dealt with. The building has been unused since that time. Earlier this month, a portion of an outer wall collapsed, triggering the city’s inspection.

City staff attended the meeting Tuesday prepared only to discuss demolition.

“Once a building becomes unsafe it has to be corrected,” Hoyt said.

Public Works Director Bob Dean said the city could handle the excavation of the foundation and hauling away debris on its own, but would have to hire an outside company to do the demolition. Dean said the debris could go to the county landfill along with the debris from the demolition of the buildings on the site of the new justice center.

So the cost would include the city’s man-hours, the fees from the landfill and also the demolition contractor. He hadn’t yet received any estimates for the demolition or made any estimation of the other fees and costs.

Bean got an estimate for demolition about a year ago, she said. That estimate had come in at $200,000, Bean said.

Megan Brightwell, a member of the commission, also pointed out there would be additional costs for removing any architectural features the city wanted to preserve before demolition began.

The commission members, though, wanted to hear what other options were available for the building.

Lee Willis, one of the city’s building inspectors, said the structural engineer who evaluated the building last year said it would take $8 million to $10 million to stabilize the building. David Schneider and David Christian, former members of the commission, said they doubted that.

“Come on,” Schneider said. “I’ve got a written estimate from Southeast General Contractors based on another structural engineering report, which personally I think is a lot more valid because this person knew something about historic buildings, but it was $100,000.”

Christian, a local architect, estimated it would take between $200,000 and $300,000 to shore up the building in order to market it.

Dean broke in.

“In order to stabilize that building, it’s going to be a heck of a lot more than $200,000,” Dean said. “I’m not going to get into $100,000 – that’s ridiculous.”

Dean continued, talking about the safety of the residents.

“I have to take preemptive steps to make sure no one is hurt or killed,” Dean said. “I’ve got to do what’s in the best interest of the majority.”

But as the conversation became heated, Brightwell broke in.

“This body should be grateful that you called the question,” Brightwell said. “We’ve been sitting on this building, nobody’s gotten anything done about it for the last decade.”

The citation at least forced the discussion, she said. However, she said, the commission needed to explore all the options for the building – not just demolition.

“As a town we can’t not make the effort to find somebody who can find a creative solution,” Brightwell said.

Joan McKinney, commission chairwoman agreed.

“It all boils down to commitment,” McKinney said.

Councilman Palmore disagreed.

“We’re forgetting one thing – cost,” Palmore said. “Who’s going to pay the cost?”

Hoyt noted that any building can be saved, with enough money, but the city doesn’t have money.

“There’s plenty of projects we can work together on,” Hoyt said, mentioning the Kilby House on the grounds of Anniston High School.

In the end the commission expressed its support of working with the city to preserve the Anniston Land Company Building in some manner. However, the group requested more information including plans on how that preservation would be handled and specific costs of demolition and stabilization of the building.

After the meeting, McKinney said, both the city and the commission have their backs against the wall on the question. They are both just trying to enforce the law when dealing with the building.

“We are in a situation that’s very regrettable. Do we want to end up with just photos in the Alabama Room?” she said, meaning the section of the library that stores historical archives.

But Hoyt was just as firm.

“The issue of public safety trumps historic preservation,” Hoyt said.

Jenkins said he was willing to explore the options and if the costs were close would lean toward stabilizing the building.

Mayor Gene Robinson was away at a previously scheduled training session for disaster preparedness, he said. Councilman Ben Little said he was busy and couldn’t make the meeting.

Attempts to contact Councilman David Dawson were unsuccessful.

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

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