At its meeting Wednesday, the Public Building Authority saw the first designs for the city’s new justice center but Chairman Jim Miller balked when he saw the plans included the demolition of the Anniston Land Company building.
“We’re going to have an issue with that,” Miller said. “As I have been given to understand, that block is part of a historical district and to do demolition, we would have to get concurrence with the Historical Commission, and they have given me to believe that they’ll agree to demolition on that block so long as it’s not the Anniston Land Company building.”
The Historical Commission has been working to save the building for years.
David Schneider, vice chair of the commission, said he, chairwoman of the commission Joan McKinney and David Christian, another member of the commission, met with Miller last week and explained their concerns to him. They asked that the authority either incorporate the building into the design or leave it intact so that it could be renovated by another developer. They also reminded him of the historic designation of the block and that plans would have to go through them.
The authority members postponed accepting a conveyance from the City Council for city-owned property on the block of the police station, including the land company building, until they meet with the commission.
That meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. today in the old council chambers at City Hall.
Brice, a general contracting firm, CMH, an architectural firm, both of Birmingham, and local architectural firm Munroe Jenkins met Wednesday with the authority to discuss a site plan and budget for the building. The City Council members had been invited to the meeting, but none attended.
When the design was unveiled, the meeting screeched to a halt. The design for a 57,500-square-foot, one-level building would infringe on the area now occupied by the land company building. The rest of the corner of 13th Street and Moore Avenue would have been used for a handicapped parking lot and lawn under the proposed plan.
“As we went through this with all the user groups, it looked to us like all of these facilities needed to be on one level to work together,” said Everett Hatcher, president of CMH. “That, in addition to the fact that, for us to put this on two levels, we’re talking about on a square-foot basis probably a premium of 15 or 20 percent. So, with no more square footage to have to add stairs, elevators, framed floor and that sort of thing, you’re talking about more money for the same square footage.”
But Miller said after last week’s meeting with the Historical Preservation Commission, he asked City Manager Don Hoyt to research the legal issues, and it appeared the commission could stop demolition on that block.
“I don’t think you guys understand,” Miller said. “We’re not going to have a project on this site if that building is (slated) for use as a parking lot.”
Authority member Ralph Bradford asked what kind of historical significance the building had.
“Couldn’t we just put a plaque there and keep moving?” Bradford asked.
Miller said the building played an important part in Anniston’s history.
“That’s not our decision,” he said. “That’s the community’s decision.”
The building was built in 1889, one of several buildings constructed around Zinn Park that became known as the “Gateway to Anniston.” The city’s train station was scarcely a block away. The buildings were built to impress outsiders in hopes of enticing developers to invest in the young city.
However, a recession hit in 1891, and the land company left the building in 1905. The land company building is the last remaining intact building of the gateway. It has sat empty for years and has fallen into disrepair.
“The building itself is in fine structural condition other than the interior core where the light well was,” Schneider said Wednesday. “It certainly adapts well to a variety of uses. I don’t see why they couldn’t adapt it for office space. … I don’t know that I would support what I would call a façade-ectomy where they basically just leave two walls standing and build a new building behind it.”
But it could take a lot of capital to renovate the building and adapt it into the design, said Hatcher, who has worked on historic properties before.
“You’re going to pay a premium for doing it,” he said.
There are several issues with the block that the design group worked around to create the building’s proposed shape — the strict $15 million budget, a culvert and flood plain within the block, and the existing police station, which has to remain in use until after completion of the new facilities.
“The problem is that you’re giving us the parameters that we can’t meet,” Hatcher said. “If you say $15 million, if you say save the land building, if you say OK let’s make it multi-story in order to do that, all of those things we can’t do.”
But Bruce Adams, vice president of operations of Brice, said he would prefer to look at this as a part of the conversation in creating the building.
“We’re going to look at this as a problem-solving solution base,” Adams said. “We’re not drawing the line anywhere.”
At this point in the design process, the footprint of the building is a moving target, and the presented design is just a starting point, said Jay Jenkins, architect with Munroe Jenkins.
“I really think what’s happened here is a miscommunication,” said authority member Jacqueline Brown. “What I’m really feeling right here now is that I don’t think you guys would have gone ahead and set this up had you known about the historical value.”
She suggested the group meet with the Historical Commission and the authority to figure out how to come to a compromise.