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Renovations on-going at Lewisburg public square

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Two Lewisburg businessmen are renovating their properties near the Courthouse Square where other recent improvements are apparent.

Defense attorney David McKenzie purchased the storefront previously occupied by a cellular telephone business on West Commerce Street. He's had contractors and craftsmen gut the building for near total reconstruction inside.

Meanwhile, bail bondsman Michael Farrar is transforming the front of his building at the northeast corner of the square so it will accommodate a restaurant. The building is sometimes referred to as the old, old jail since it pre-dates the jail that was expanded just down East Church Street.

Both men are learning about the town's architectural history because of their construction projects. For example, Farrar notes that farmers, merchants and other community leaders built the historic Ladies Rest Room next to his building when it was the county jail because it was also the Sheriff's Office, and therefore presumably safe for the facilities built for the fairer sex.

Another recently upgraded building on the square is Ken Todd's Too Squared photography shop where his torn red awning has been replaced with a green awning. In a neighborly aside, Jeff Ellis, proprietor of Lewisburg Auction Gallery, noted Todd's awning is the same green as The Emporium that contains his business next door.

McKenzie's work is far more extensive than replacing an awning.

"We began the project with almost complete demolition of the building," the lawyer said.

The roof, side walls and some of the front and rear walls are nearly all that was left before McKenzie's contractors came in.

"I've designed the facade of the building to enhance the classic architecture of the square while providing privacy and comfort for my clients" in the law office's front room, he said.

While virtually all his legal research, trial preparation and other law services are done "on-line" with computers; McKenzie will have a book-lined library that doubles as a conference room for eight to 10 people.

McKenzie declined to specify how much money this project is costing him, he did say it's in "six figures" and is clearly more than the $20,000 limit on loans from the city's panel that controls money received here because of a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Action Grant.

"Although I encountered some initial resistance, I've found that it's important to hire the right contractor who can stay in contact with the county's building inspectors," he said. "It's critical for success."

McKenzie turned to Jamie Blocker and Kerry Giddens who run B&G Homes of Belfast, Tenn.

"Although custom home construction is our specialty," Giddens said, "we're always interested in expanding our business."

Also on the job Monday were brick masons Jeff and David Isley who said they've been able to salvage century-old bricks for reuse in the reconstruction of the building.

In separate statements, McKenzie and Farrar spoke highly of the Marshall County Codes Office, led by director Don Nelson, but both had some apprehensions.

Nelson and building inspector John Price "kept me and the contractors aware to avoid costly developments," McKenzie said, offering an example - requirements for a handicap accessible restroom.

McKenzie anticipates completion of his office in late January. Thirteen months earlier, he opened his own law firm here after being a partner with Wilson, Henegar and McKenzie for three years.

Meanwhile, McKenzie is working in renovated offices on South First Street that he rents from Jheri Beth Rich who has a black awning in front of her building.

Farrar has adjusted his anticipated opening date for his Corner Cafe, originally anticipating an opening three weeks ago. Now he anticipates opening in early December.

He's faced codes issues, but approaches that as a course correction.

"I'm glad Codes have been in and out... Although codes can be costly, the results will last longer," Farrar said. "It's what the city requires, so it's what we do."

Table and counter placement, access issues, and decorating are among Farrar's recent challenges and accomplishments at the Corner Cafe.

His daughter, Alexis, selected an historic vessel blue and a coffee bean brown for wall colors that define the space for quick breakfast and dinner breaks.

Farrar is now asking local artists if they'd like a new venue to display their work. Lighting is favorable for the now-bare walls.

His front dining room, however, is being offered as a place to watch for the comings and goings of both city and county courts. The front windows offer a view of both the courthouse and city police headquarters.

It's a handy perch for lawyers, lawmen, and himself, as a bail bondsman.

It's also a financial investment in Lewisburg's public square, as is McKenzie's.