The 1896 Lamar House has been vacant and slowly deteriorating since the state bought the North Person Street home in 1999.
Paint is peeling off the outside walls. Parts of the ceilings are missing. Decades-old appliances are rusting in the kitchen.
Now the state is looking for buyers to restore the Lamar House and five of its neighbors along North Person Street. “For sale” signs went up on the six historic homes this summer without much fanfare – 12 years after the legislature voted to sell the properties.
“These houses are not being used by the state, and with increased property values along Person Street, now is a great time to sell for the benefit of taxpayers,” said Chris Mears, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, which is handling the sale.
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The sale comes with strings attached: Buyers will have to follow historic preservation covenants designed to prevent major alterations or demolitions. Developers looking to turn the block into condominiums need not apply.
The homes – located between North Street and the Murphey School property – are drawing plenty of interest because they sit along the border of the historic Oakwood neighborhood. While renovations will likely prove costly, the listed sale prices range from $255,000 to $435,000.
“We have shown the properties over 100 times and have received multiple offers on each house,” Mears said.
But Myrick Howard of Preservation North Carolina – which lobbied the state to sell the homes and their Blount Street neighbors in 2003 – worries that the State Property Office isn’t doing enough to promote the sale. The only online listing is a five-page document that doesn’t include photos, and the properties aren’t being shown on evenings or weekends.
“They should all sell without any problem if they’re marketed in any decent way,” Howard said. “If this were a private owner, they would have fired their realtor for what you see in terms of the marketing materials.”
Putting residents back in the homes will help liven up a dead spot in downtown Raleigh’s growth. The state’s ownership of most homes along North Blount and North Person streets effectively creates a dead zone between Oakwood, downtown and the thriving business district further up Person Street.
The state is the dark hole in that picture. If these houses were restored, there would be a seamless transition from Oakwood over to Blount Street.
Myrick Howard, Preservation North Carolina
“The state is the dark hole in that picture,” Howard said. “If these houses were restored, there would be a seamless transition from Oakwood over to Blount Street.”
When then-Gov. Mike Easley signed the 2003 legislation calling for the sale, all 26 properties between Peace, Jones, Person and Wilmington streets were set to go on the market.
The state picked Florida-based LNR Property in 2005 to develop the entire area. But the company’s Blount Street Commons development stalled in the recession, and in 2012 the state allowed LNR to back out of purchasing the remaining lots on the south end of the site, including the homes now for sale.
Three of the smaller homes on North Person – the Gay, Worth and Watson houses – were moved there from sites on North Wilmington and East Peace streets in 2008 to make way for LNR’s new residential construction. They’ve sat vacant without even a utility connection since then.
A recent study by the legislature’s Program Evaluation Division recommended the sale of five other historic houses around Blount Street, including the Heck-Andrews House. None of them are available in the current sale, and Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration says it wants the long-vacant Heck-Andrews House to be renovated for special events and meetings.
Howard said he’s hopeful that a successful sale and restoration of the Person Street houses could prompt state leaders to offer up the others in the neighborhood.
“There’s a quick $5 million for the state for just following through with the plan put in place in 2003,” Howard said.
Historic homes for sale
Lamar House: Built in 1896 at 401 N. Person St., it has been vacant and neglected since the state bought it in 1999.
Ashley House: Built in 1903 at 215 E. North St., it housed the state Division of Air Quality until last year.
Cambridge House: Built in 1910 at 407 N. Person St., it has been vacant since at least 2009.
Watson House: Built in 1910 on N. Wilmington Street, it was moved to 411 N. Person St. in 2008.
Worth House: Built in 1936 on East Peace Street, it was moved to 415 N. Person Street in 2008 .
Gay House: Built in 1926 on East Peace Street, it was moved to 419 N. Person Street in 2008.