City officials finally got some answers they’d been looking for Tuesday regarding a project to rehabilitate a historic downtown structure.
Joe Pierson, executive director of the Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation Inc., appeared at the special council meeting to give an overview of and answer questions about the organization’s plan to refurbish the former Catlettsburg National Bank building.
Ownership of the building was transferred to the organization in February by the Catlettsburg Main Street program and will revert back to Main Street once the work is completed, Pierson said. The building could then be rented out, with proceeds going back to Main Street and possibly being used to save more historic downtown buildings.
“The deal was that if Main Street was willing to buy it, we would act as the developer, and Main Street would be out noting but the purchase price for the building,” Pierson said.
The building had been condemned and under a demolition order. A plywood barrier was erected around the structure due to falling debris. And, in early February, prior to the transfer of ownership, the front of the old union hall, which shares a wall with the bank building, collapsed into the street, taking part of the bank building with it and causing Center Street to be closed for several weeks.
Main Street Director Frank Branham told the city council in February that work on the building was expected to begin right away and that an open house for the refurbished structure could be held as early as this summer. But, no work has been done to date, and council members had recently begun to express frustration over that. City leaders also claimed they’d been unable to get any information from the Trust on when the job might get underway.
Council members and Mayor Randall Peterman all have said they want to save the building, but, at the same time have indicated they’re not willing to allow it state of disrepair to continue forever.
“My patience has run out,” said Councilman Charlie Caperton, adding that if it was up to him, the building would have already been demolished.
Pierson told the council on Tuesday that it would likely be sometime after the beginning of the new fiscal year July 1 before work begins on the building. At that point, he said, the Trust is expected to receive $45,000 in emergency funds for the project from its national parent organization as well as additional money from the Kentucky General Assembly.
Another reason the project has been somewhat slow to launch, Pierson said, is the organization is waiting for a structural engineer to examine the building and prepare a report. That could point out areas where the structure needs to be shored up, as well the presence of hazards like lead and asbestos, he said.
“With a building like this, you don’t want to just jump on it with a hammer and nails,” he said.
Another obstacle has been locating a contractor who can repair the building’s unique slate roof, Pierson said, adding that very few were capable of that kind of work.
Also, Pierson said, efforts are being made to find a tenant willing to commit to a long-term lease to occupy the structure. Such an agreement, he said, would essentially serve as collateral to allow the Trust to secure additional bank financing for the project.
Pierson said a number of corporate entities had already expressed interest in moving into the building once the renovation is completed. He didn’t identify any of them, but described them as “astoundingly credible.”
Councilwoman Sheila Lambert told Pierson she hoped the lines of communication between the council and the Trust would become more open as the project progresses.
“All we ask is that you keep us informed so we can keep the people we’re responsible to informed,” she said.
KENNETH HART can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2654.