Buildings on the 300 block of downtown Jackson’s North Farish Street could soon be demolished if the Jackson Redevelopment Authority decides not to spend money to make them structurally safe.
Engineers who spent some of July and August inspecting the crumbling row of former stores, eateries and nightclubs estimate repairs costing nearly $200,000 must be spent to keep them from collapsing.
Jackson’s Historic Preservation Commission would have to approve any demolitions in the multi-block district that until the late 1970s was a cultural and shopping destination for Jackson’s African-American population. Some Jackson Redevelopment Authority board members are concerned that tearing down too many of the structures could jeopardize the district’s designation as a National Historic District.
The designation and the state and federal tax credits it affords are critical to any renewed JRA effort to convert a portion of Farish Street into an entertainment district.
The district stretches from Amite Street to Fortification Street and from Mill Street to Lamar Street.
Only one structure on the 300 block – the Palace Auditorium – is listed on state historic preservation records as a “contributor” to the historic and cultural value of the district. The circa 1911 building on the street’s east side, however, is nearly ready to collapse, according to a report from Alfred Luckett, an engineer with Laird & Smithers Engineers and Consultants. The second floor of the building has already fallen in. The structure has a one-story attachment.
“Due to the current condition of the structure, access to determine the condition of the building was difficult,” Luckett noted in a report to the JRA.
The missing second floor had previously served to brace the exterior walls, according to Luckett. Now, he said, the walls are unbraced for the entire height of the building. Outward bowing of the west wall is also a concern, Luckett noted.
Further, the lime-based mortar is in poor condition throughout the building. Any renovation of the building will require using lime-based mortar to keep the soft brick it secures from expanding and cracking, according to Luckett’s report.
The building’s current roof, installed sometime in the 1990s, shows signs of water damage.
“In its current condition, it is clear the Palace Auditorium is not safe,” Luckett concluded.
Luckett estimates repairs to stabilize it will run $93,000.
Tony Dennis, owner of Dennis Bros. Shoe Repair across the street from the auditorium, said he recalls the building as a popular nightclub. “It was one of the hottest spots on the block,” said Dennis, whose family opened its shoe repair shop at 325 North Farish Street in 1938.
In other times, the building served as a community gathering place and may have been a furniture store at one time.
Eric Resiman with the Mississippi Department of History and Archives’ Architectural Division said a building’s architectural significance and design are important factors in assessing whether a building in a historic district is of contributing value or marginal value. “Obviously, use as a gathering place would make it a contributing member,” Resiman said.
Contributor or not, the Palace Auditorium “needs to be pushed down,” said Dennis, who joined the family business at age 10 in 1967.
The buildings at 311 and 315 Farish Street are more dilapidated than the auditorium, engineers say.
The building at 315 North Farish, built in 1912, has a second floor and roof that could collapse at any time, said Jefferson Laird III of Laird & Smithers. It must be “carefully demolished,” as it is “subject to immediate collapse,” Laird said.
The second floor of 311 N. Farish is gone and the remainder of the circa 1948 structure “is not safe to be near,” Laird said. “It is dangerous to anyone in the area surrounding the building.”
The masonry walls of both buildings should be braced from the inside, according to Laird, who estimated the stabilization costs at $74,000.
In a report on the row of buildings at 324, 326, 328 and 330 North Farish, engineers said stabilization repairs would be about $80,230. “These are minimum repairs required to stabilize the perimeter walls,” Laird said.
“These buildings are not safe or structurally stable to go into or be near,” he warned.
Roof removals and wall bracing are needed throughout, according to Laird.
On the west side of the street, Dennis Bros. Shoe Repair and Peaches Cafe share a building that takes in 325 to 327 North Farish. The building is functional but deteriorating. A pair of holes in the roof let in water. The ceilings of both the shoe repair shop and cafe have water damage, as do the walls. Water damage is also causing a crumbling of the concrete slab underneath the southeast corner of Dennis Bros. Shoe Repair, Laird said.
Tony Dennis regular deals with the water leaks. “I set the buckets out,” he said, usually “eight to 10” of them.
Laird estimated repairs for 325 to 327 North Farish at $32,550.
Meanwhile, none of the buildings on the 300 block are included in the liens former Farish Street developer David Watkins has placed on the first block of building in an effort to retrieve $4.5 million he says he invested in the structures before the JRA board booted him from the project in October 2013.
Watkins “doesn’t blame them for demolishing” the buildings on the 300 block, Watkins’ lawyer Lance Stevens said in an email.
Stevens said Watkins has motions pending before Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas to determine whether the liens are valid. All the briefs in the case should be filed by the end of November, Stevens said.
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