Meridian Star

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June 27, 2010

Threefoot Building: Part 1 ‘Looking at all our options’

Development, demolition and stabilization

MERIDIAN —     Since the City of Meridian first purchased the Threefoot building in 2006, it has incurred a lot of expenses — more than $2.5 million worth.

    The largest cost was the purchase of the building itself — $1.2 million plus $25,000 in closing costs. Add to that the $1 million that was paid to would-be developer HRI Properties for the cancellation of their development agreement, several years worth of insurance payments, stabilization costs, and monthly expenses such as utility bills, and you've got a pretty expensive building.

    But the Threefoot building doesn't have to be a money pit forever. There are options — and lots of them.

Mayor looked into

de-listing, demolition

    One option that Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry looked into early in her tenure was demolition, but she said Wednesday that tearing down the iconic building is not in her current plans.

    According to an e-mail written by Mississippi Heritage Trust Director David Preziosi, provided anonymously to the Meridian Star, "In September of 2009 I spoke with the Mayor about the Threefoot building after it was placed on MHT's endangered list. In that conversation, she wanted to know how to get the building removed from the National Register of Historic Places for possible demolition."

    Preziosi confirmed in a phone interview that Barry had called him to find out how to get the building de-listed.

    Barry also confirmed that she looked into it, but said she was just trying to learn about the different options available for the Threefoot building. 

    "When I called them I was strictly calling to get information," she said. "You can call them and get any information you need about saving a building or taking a building down."

    "I'm looking at all the options of what the best plan is for the City of Meridian," she added. "Nothing is off the board."

    In his e-mail, Preziosi said he advised Barry not to have the property delisted, and gave her the names of people she could talk to about funding opportunities for the Threefoot building.

    Those people, a grant administrator and a tax credit administrator with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said they had not heard from Barry. However, Jim Woodrick, acting director of the MDAH Historic Preservation Division, said he did have a conversation with Barry about historic preservation in general.

    Barry said her plan for right now is not to demolish the Threefoot building, but to find the funds to stabilize it, preserving it from further decay until the economy picks back up, at which time she hopes to find a developer who will invest in its renovation.

    At the time that Barry inquired about getting the building de-listed, there was a development agreement in place for the building, but not one she was happy with. New Orleans developer HRI Properties had an agreement with the city to develop the Threefoot building into a hotel. The agreement was made shortly before Barry became mayor, and was cut off shortly afterward.

    Critics of the HRI Threefoot project, which included the Barry administration, said it required too much monetary commitment on the part of the city. For the HRI project to take place, the city would have had to back a $14 million loan to the project by issuing general obligation bonds. 

    Barry asked about de-listing the property in September of 2009, and HRI ended their involvement with the Threefoot project in December of that year, citing a lack of cooperation from the mayor. The city then paid HRI $1 million to reimburse pre-development costs, a requirement laid out in the development agreement.

    Josh Collen, a vice president of development for HRI who was closely involved with the Threefoot project, said HRI was not aware that Barry looked into having the property removed from the National Register of Historic Places. He said the financing of the project centered on tax credits available only to buildings that are listed on the national register.

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