He had already been working downstairs and several pictures graced the walls of the lobby, even while it was still littered with ladders, saws, drills and dust. Lots of dust.
The Water Works is among the first clients to move into the newly-refurbished Watermark Tower, the 10-story building that once loomed over Anniston’s downtown as a burned-out hulk.
“We’ve got about two weeks of cleaning to do in one day,” said Jerry Fish, job superintendent, who supervised the workers who were still painting, hanging ceiling tiles and tweaking lighting and plumbing.
They had just one day, because the Water Works is hosting a Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event at 5 p.m today.
Miller had hoped to be in the building by now, but delays have slowed the move. Still, his anticipation is high; after all he’s been working on this project for more than six years now.
The Water Works and Sewer Board bought the building in August 2005. At the time, Miller said, the federal government was looking to put a new courthouse on the block where the water works is headquartered. Then, the board investigated several options for a new location and settled on the former AmSouth Building –- now Watermark Tower-- which, despite the major amount work needed after a 2003 fire forced the tenants out, was the cheapest and seemingly the best option.
“They jumped all over the possibility of saving the 10-story building given its historic value and what they perceived as its value for the downtown historic district,” Miller said.
After the board made the purchase, the federal government decided to look elsewhere for a location and still hasn’t settled on one. The board decided to move forward with the plans to move, and sold its current building, which it has occupied since 1957, to the city.
Miller is also glad to see Watermark Tower saved, he said.
“The building was the first thing you see on the skyline no matter which way you came into town from,” Miller said. “When you think of Anniston, you think of this building.”
To Miller, and he believes to the members of the board, the building was a symbol. If it couldn’t be saved, Anniston was past the point of no return, Miller said.
Right now, the Water Works is waiting for a fire door for its lobby before it makes the complete move to the new quarters, Miller said. He expects to be wholly moved in the beginning of March.
Once the board does move, it will allow the Anniston Police Department to spread out. After the water works vacates its current building, the uniform division of the police department will move in, Chief Layton McGrady said.
“We need places to store stuff, plus I want a place to kind of put them off to the side,” McGrady said. “It will relieve a lot of pressure.”
With construction of a new justice center to begin soon on the same block as the police station, the large equipment and the police will compete for space. Using the old water board office will allow the biggest division of the police department to move a little farther from the space crunch, McGrady said.
With the renovation of the first three floors of the Watermark Tower near completion some tenants are making the move. Attorney Doug Ghee, a former tenant of the Watermark Tower back in the 1970s and 1980s, will be taking up about two thirds of the ground floor of the building. His office was busy moving things in Monday.
“We started Saturday and we’re finishing up today, I hope,” Ghee said.
Ghee, Draper, Alexander and Downey -- the law firm of Ghee operates with his three daughters and two sons-in-law -- planned to open in the new space today, he said.
The tower is in a good location in the center of town, Ghee said, but the symbolism of the renovation was the big draw for the firm to locate there.
“Seeing it come back alive as part of an overall revitalization of the downtown, it’s just exciting,” Ghee said. “It’s going to certainly make the downtown more viable.”
When all the scheduled tenants are in, Miller said the first three floors will be occupied. The water works will be taking up the basement, part of the ground floor and the second floor. Ghee’s firm is taking up the remainder of the first floor and a defense contractor has rented the third floor, Miller said.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.