Commentary

Christensen: McCrory's Blount Street neighborhood looking sad

rchristensen@newsobserver.comJanuary 25, 2014 

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Dan Molitor of Sharpe Masonry completes the brickwork on the front walkway leading from Blount Street to the Heck-Andrews House.

JUDITH SIVIGLIA — 1999 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Raleigh’s once elegant Blount Street has the look of a down-on-its-heels neighborhood.

Stroll through Gov. Pat McCrory’s neighborhood and you will find vacant houses, peeling paint, rotting wood, a collapsing porch and boarded-up windows. There has been a problem of thieves breaking in to steal copper.

The landlord for these houses? The state of North Carolina.

The cause of these problems goes back many years, and the administration is beginning to take steps to begin to fix it – which is a good thing.

Blount Street, which is where the Executive Mansion is located, was the most fashionable address in Raleigh in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Senators, business leaders and the like lived in the street’s fine Victorian homes.

But like many central urban neighborhoods, it went through decades of decline before nearby neighborhoods such as Oakwood and Mordecai revived, state government began building in the area, and new apartments and condominiums began springing up.

At the legislature’s direction, the state began considering selling off several blocks of old houses that it owned as part of the Blount Street Historic District. The state sold the property to LNR Southeast Investments in two phases for a total of $10 million, starting in 2007. LNR was going to develop the area and renovate some of the homes, but the project stalled when the economy cratered.

In 2012, the state took back control of the property, with LNR forfeiting earnest money and paying a fee to the state.

Now the state will put out to bid work for repairs – largely woodwork and paint jobs – on some of the houses that front the Executive Mansion along Lane Street. It will use them as state offices. It also hopes to sell houses it owns along Person Street bordering the Oakwood neighborhood.

McCrory and the legislature have provided money in the current budget for the repairs.

“I can’t remember when when we had any R&R (repair and renovation) money,” said Speros Fleggas, senior deputy secretary of administration. “That is why these buildings are in the condition they are in.”

There are also plans to paint the 1870 Heck-Andrews House at 309 N. Blount St., across the street from the lieutenant governor’s office, and a stone’s throw from the Executive Mansion. But it would cost an estimated $2.3 million to renovate the home on the inside. It is not clear whether the state or any potential private buyer will ever have the money to do so.

One of the worst buildings is the McGee House, a 1962 white brick house, with its windows and doors boarded up, a blue tarp on the roof and its porch caving in. Fleggas said the state plans to tear down the house as it has no historic value.

Fleggas says the state must decide what to do with a number of other houses along Blount Street. Will it renovate them for state offices, or sell them to private interests singly or as a group?

The problem is certainly not McCrory’s fault but rather the result of a real estate deal that fell through and budget shortfalls during past administrations.

McCrory has recently complained about some of the modern architecture of the state government buildings being ugly. But some of the old Victorian jewels in his neighborhood are looking very sad, too.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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