Clayton News-Star

Clayton leaders approve purchase of damaged downtown building

Bricks recently fell off this Main Street building, which the Town of Clayton has decided to buy.
Bricks recently fell off this Main Street building, which the Town of Clayton has decided to buy. FILE PHOTO

After weeks of deliberation, Clayton leaders on Tuesday agreed to buy a rundown building many say is becoming an eyesore downtown.

What’s unclear, however, is where the town will find the $600,000 needed to give the old structure new life.

The town will use $150,000 from the pending sale of a communications lease on a water tower to buy the building, which is owned by First Citizens Bank after its last tenant, ABC Plumbing Company Inc., defaulted on its loan.

As for rehabbing the building, a plan laid out by Town Manager Steve Biggs called for Clayton to partner with a private company, which would add its money to an additional $100,000 from the town’s lease sale to pay for the repairs. The company could also apply for historic preservation tax credits to get some of its money back.

However, in recent weeks, Clayton leaders have been talking about alternatives to the public-private partnership. And on Tuesday, before the Town Council voted 4-1 to approve the purchase, Councilman Art Holder laid out a proposal where the town, with help from a nonprofit, would pay for the repairs on its own.

While the town’s chief reason for renovating the building has shifted to an economic-development project, Clayton first eyed the building for an expansion of Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library. Holder, who sits on the library’s advisory board, said the library needs more space and needs it now.

In his proposal, Holder suggested the town pay for the repairs by using the extra $100,000 from the lease sale, $200,000 of the town’s savings and $100,000 from the Friends of the Library, a nonprofit that supports the library. Under Holder’s proposal, the town would borrow the remaining amount needed, about $200,000, to pay for the rest of the repairs.

By paying for the repairs on its own, the town would maintain ownership of the building and thus save money by not having to rent the space for the library from a private partner, Holder said. The long-term goal, though, might still be to sell the building at some point.

The building shares a wall with another building in the 200 block of East Main Street. That concerned Councilman Jason Thompson, who voted against buying the building.

Thompson said if the other building, owned by Lee Brothers Rental, fell into disrepair or faced foreclosure, the town might be pressured to purchase it as well.

The Clayton Town Council started discussing the building in December and tabled a vote on the property earlier this month. Councilman Michael Grannis, who wanted to get more feedback from residents, said on Tuesday 59 of the 81 people he talked to abacked the idea.

Grannis said the town and private property owners have invested nearly $1 million in sprucing up downtown, largely through subsidized facade projects.

“I think we are too far into this project, in regards to making downtown an active and lively place, to where we can ignore this particular issue,” Grannis said.

The town’s tentative closing date on the building is Feb. 6.

Bricks fell off

Earlier this month, several bricks fell off the side of the former ABC Plumbing building and onto the sidewalk along East Main Street. Biggs, the town manager, said he thinks the recent heavy rain and cooler temperatures led to the minor collapse. The town removed the bricks and First Citizens installed a mesh liner to prevent any others from falling, he said.

“It was proof of the need of the project,” Biggs said.

“We’re going to be doing some inspections of that building and the adjoining building to verify the safe or unsafe conditions,” Biggs added.

A study last summer by Lysaght and Associates of Raleigh shows about $598,000 in recommended improvements, including structural upgrades, floor replacements, interior demolition work and heating, air and electrical work.

Red and White

One reason behind buying the building was to prevent the town from having to condemn another property near downtown.

Clayton already plans to demolish an old grocery store on West Front Street. In November, a judge upheld the town’s decision to raze the former Red & White store, which inspectors deemed unsafe in 2012.

The building’s owner, Katie Smith of Sneads Ferry, had until Jan. 19 to appeal the judge’s ruling but didn’t. Biggs said a company the town formerly picked to demolish the building will honor its low bid of about $35,000. No date has been set for the demolition, he said.