One of the oldest buildings in Apex might soon be on the market, for lease to a law firm or another similar business that wants an office near downtown.
But first, the town will need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get the building suitable for a tenant.
The Apex Town Council approved spending $30,000 last week to stabilize the building – patching the roof, repairing columns and doing other work to prevent further damage.
That won’t cover improvements needed to bring the house up to code, including plumbing, electrical and other interior work as well as connecting the 142-year-old building to the sewer system.
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“Not a lot of cheap things to do, but we think it’ll be worth it,” Assistant Town Manager Drew Havens said.
The Thompson-Utley-Fletcher-Tunstall House was built in 1872, a year before the town itself was incorporated. Commonly known as the Tunstall House, it has been home to generations of prominent Apex citizens.
W.F. Utley, a wealthy merchant, Wake County Commissioner, postmaster and justice of the peace, had the home built for a local doctor, A.J. Thompson, but Utley later bought it for himself. Utley’s will left the house to A.J. Fletcher, who sold it to Verne and Mary Lee Tunstall around 1940, according to the Apex Historical Society. Tunstall was a farmer and early town leader.
It’s behind Town Hall, and on the highest point in Apex, which is a good selling point, said Stacie Galloway, Apex’s communications manager .
“This is ‘the Peak of Good Living,’ ” she said, playing off the town’s motto.
The two-story house represents “a fine example of a late 19th-century ‘I’ house with Victorian details” and “a rare surviving core of an in-town farm,” according to the Capital Area Preservation group.
The town took over the property in 1997, when the current mayor, Bill Sutton, was town manager. Sutton said the home deteriorated because officials couldn’t work on it while it was occupied.
“Mrs. Tunstall lived there until she died just a few years ago,” Sutton said.
After her death, time and vandals continued taking a toll on the home.
Broken glass litters the floor of several rooms, and the first-floor bathroom’s ceiling has caved in. The walls are cracking, plaster has crumbled to the floor, and spider webs and a dead bird are in the kitchen.
But the home is on the National Register of Historic Places and can’t be torn down. Because town officials are tasked with preserving it, they figure they might as well get some use out of it, too.
Town Manager Bruce Radford said the Capital Area Preservation group has suggested that it’s leased as an office building. The group will help market the building once it’s on the market, he said, but won’t help fund any of the work required to get it ready.
“We think that’s a very good idea,” he said of leasing the historic home. “But obviously, in the meantime, we’d have to figure out what it would cost to bring the building up to code.”
Council member Denise Wilkie, a history and economics teacher at Apex High School, said she supports the work because otherwise, “It’s just going to sit there and rot.”
She asked whether the state has any grants to help the town undertake the project, but several other officials said most of those funds have been cut from the state budget.
Despite the challenges, the council voted unanimously to spend the first $30,000 toward the house and research how much more will be needed.