POINT PLEASANT — Second chances arrive for both people and places, it seems.
The old Franklin building, formerly located in the 400 block of Main Street, was brought down by the City of Point Pleasant last month, with that demolition expected to wrap up this week, according to contractors E&R Excavating Co. of of New Haven. E&R were awarded the job with a bid of $61,260. This price included asbestos abatement.
At last night’s regular meeting of Point Pleasant City Council, it was announced funding from the USDA, which the city applied for back in April to help pay for the demolition, would not be awarded. The funding, estimated to be around $48,000, was from a USDA revolving loan fund awarded to Main Street Point Pleasant.
Lisa Sharp, with the USDA in Morgantown, spoke to the Point Pleasant Register about the funding, saying those funds were originally awarded in 2007 to be used over time for small business and economic development projects.
Main Street Point Pleasant Director Charles Humphreys approached city officials months ago about using those funds to bring down the building for economic development purposes — again, these were funds Main Street Point Pleasant had already been awarded and were available. Council voted to proceed with requesting bids for the project with the understanding the money was there for this specific use. Humphreys asked the city to write a letter to Sharp requesting the funds, which was done April 18, with Sharp saying a USDA field representative went to the building’s site April 29, shortly after receiving the request, to gather more information.
At that time, Sharp said the building was still standing but contents were being removed in anticipation of the demolition. She said the field rep from USDA informed Humphreys an environmental assessment done by the USDA would have to be completed before the project could possibly be funded, as this was a “change of scope” of the original use of the funds awarded in 2007. The building began to come down on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8 and a few days after that, the city was notified in writing by the USDA of its decision not to fund the project and why.
Sharp said since the assessment was not done prior to the demolition, there was no way to approve any sort of changes to the use of the funding. She also said an environmental review would’ve likely been a lengthy process and the letter dated April 18 from the City of Point Pleasant, was the first she’d heard about the demolition project. Humphreys said it was his understanding this demolition fell into the scope of use for this money and he made a trip to officials in Charleston to appeal for use of it in this capacity. That money is still available to Main Street Point Pleasant for other projects, it just can’t be used in this capacity.
Sharp praised the work Humphreys has done, saying there has been “so many grants, strides and achievements” made in downtown Point Pleasant over the years, and “in the long run, hopefully another new business can move in, unfortunately, our funding can’t be used” in this situation.
As luck, or fate, would have it, the day the elevator shaft was coming down at the demolition site, an offer was made to city officials to purchase the two lots where the building sat with stipulations — that the elevator shaft stay, as did the historic Mail Pouch painting on the side of the building, and that an attempt be made to save the mosaic tile in front of the former entrance.
The elevator shaft was literally minutes away from being torn down with cables already attached to the top of the tower when demolition was stopped.
At city council Monday night, Billings said a private individual who expressed interest in purchasing the lots wanted to possibly use the elevator shaft to install a town clock with other plans of developing the site.
The side of the lot where the elevator shaft sits belongs to the former owner of the Wallpaper Outlet and apparently Billings said the potential buyer has been talking to that owner about purchasing that side of the lot. City council then voted to hold a public auction, as required by law, for its side of the lot to be sold. That auction will be 10 a.m. July 9 with a possible “reserve” amount on the property.
The city has paid E&R Excavating for the demolition work out of its general fund, Billings said, with both he and council praising the firm for its work and adhering to the special conditions of not damaging the elevator shaft or Mail Pouch painting which made it more difficult to clear the lots.
Selling its side of the lot where the former Franklin building sat, will help recoup some of the money it hadn’t anticipated spending on the demolition, plus possibly provide the city with an economic development opportunity, as well as preserving a piece of its history. This also goes along with Main Street Point Pleasant’s goal of attracting business development while maintaining the town’s history, with Humphreys saying he supports the development of the lots.
The city had been given ownership of the building several administrations ago and it had fallen into disrepair over the years with a piece of the ceiling having fallen into the basement, causing liability and safety concerns — the liability insurance alone cost the city around $8,000 a year.
As for the future of the former site of the Franklin building, one thing is certain — that future is tied to preserving the past.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.