WEAVER — No matter how much progress his city makes, Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis said the first thing most people see when they come into town is a run-down, boarded-up building.
“That’s a like a stake in the heart,” Willis said. “The perception you have when you see that is Weaver is dying.”
For seven years city officials haven’t been able to do much with the former Victory Gas Station on the corner of Jacksonville and Main streets, at the heart of Weaver’s small downtown. Since taking office in 2013, Willis has overseen a mini-revitalization of the area, including establishment of a new grocery store, repaving parts of Jacksonville Street and securing money for a new sidewalk project.
Still, Victory stands empty.
Mike Howard, Weaver’s building inspector, said there’s no reason the city can’t entice a new business to the spot. Although the outside of Victory has boarded-up windows and peeling, faded paint, the structure itself is in good shape.
“It’s got good bones,” Howard said. “It just needs new clothes.”
Although finding a new business to take over Victory wasn’t part of his plans when he took office, Willis said the project has become his new priority. The problem with the property, though, has nothing to do with location or the shape of the building. It’s a problem with ownership.
Willis said that for years, Mapco, the building’s owner, was unwilling to budge on price, but more importantly, the purpose of the facility. Part of the stipulation of buying the building was the new owner had to sign a five-year contract to continue to get fuel from Mapco, meaning the building could essentially only be used as a filling station.
“That handcuffed any business that wasn’t a convenience store,” Willis said. “If a yarn shop moved in, they would have no use for gas, so there was no point of it.”
But after seven years, Willis said he thinks Mapco has softened its stance and is willing to work out a deal with prospective buyers. Willis said no price has been negotiated for the building, but he believes the company would be willing to sell for less than market value.
“I think they would entertain any reasonable offer,” the mayor said.
Attempts on Wednesday to reach Todd Simpson, the sales and operating manager for Mapco, were unsuccessful.
Willis said buying the building isn’t an option for Weaver, but the city has been working with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission on possible grants that could help make the property more attractive for business. Robin Caler, a principal planner with the commission, had initially proposed the city apply for a federal brownfield grant, which could assess whether the property was contaminated because of gas, and then provide money to clean it up. Willis said, however, the property had contamination, and such a grant couldn’t be used to buy the property.
Caler said the city still has other options for economic development grants, but it needs a more concrete plan to move forward.
“Without knowing what they want to do or their vision it’s hard to say,” Caler said. “It needs more of a plan.”
Depending on what kind of business is interested in setting up shop, the costs of remodeling work shouldn’t amount to a whole lot of money, Howard said while showing off the inside of the building. Other than a spot on the floor where some tile had come up, the gas station looks like it could be restocked tomorrow. But Willis said he’s not interested in bringing in any business that would compete with neighbors in downtown Weaver, including the Bearcat Express gas station right across the street. Jeff Christopher, a manager at the convenience store, declined to talk a reporter Wednesday, but Willis said he’s in communication with all the local businesses to make sure he’s not stepping on anyone’s toes.
“I think they’re interested in seeing this place open, but they’re also mindful of what I’m doing too,” Willis said Wednesday about other businesses in the area. “But I’m not going to open up a Family Dollar when we have a Dollar General right down the street. Weaver’s not big enough for that.”
Willis said he couldn’t name any companies he’s talked with about buying the building, but said interested businesses included a company that makes police uniforms, a produce shop and an e-cigarette vendor.
Willis said any interested business should contact Weaver City Hall at 256-820-1121.