The Smithfield Town Council has determined that its long-abandoned water plant on Front Street is old but not historic.
That distinction, and the building’s four decades of neglect, sealed its demolition sooner rather than later. The council voted 5-1 earlier this month to level the site.
The century-old building had been the subject of a number of redevelopment rumors in recent years—from restaurants to a brewery or winery. But none of those ideas ever gained traction or the tax credits to fund them, so the Town Council settled the matter once and for all.
“A year and a half ago, the council started talking about demolishing [the plant],” Councilman Emery Ashley said. “It had become dilapidated and a place for vagrants, and people worried about safety. Then there was another group of people interested in not tearing it down and wanted to develop it into a cool place.”
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A memo from interim public works director Pete Connet to the council said that the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. and rehabilitation group, CommunitySmith, wanted to preserve the building as a historic site. The town, though, never applied for designation as a national or state historic property.
Ashley, who voted for the building’s demolition, said it was important to keep the property under Smithfield’s control.
“We don’t want that land to get out of town hands,” Ashley said. “There were no concrete plans for redevelopment, so we decided to take the risk out of town hands. We didn’t see the reality of anything happening.”
Ashley pointed out the September decision to upgrade Smithfield’s boat ramp right next to the water plant property. What is currently a gravel trail into the Neuse River will become a 14-foot-wide concrete boat ramp.
Sarah Edwards of the DSDC supported the building’s preservation, hoping the building and land could be redeveloped. But Edwards she said she’s moving forward.
“I think with the improvements to the boat ramp, there’s some positive development going on there,” she said. “We thought there was some potential for development of the building, but we have the boat ramp. I see it as giving up what could be for what is right in front of us.”
She said potential remains for redeveloping other old buildings, including the former town hall on South Fourth Street.
Demolition of the plant will cost $64,500, with the low bid coming from D.H. Griffin. Marlon Lee was the lone councilman to oppose demolition.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson