Threat of third 'snaggletooth' taken to council

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In concert with a city resident's public comment during last week's meeting of the Lewisburg City Council, local leaders are examining the prospect of city intervention on behalf of a deteriorating corner building on the public square.

Savannah, Ga., Boston, Mass., and other American cities, large and small, have created development districts that preserve the historic appearance of what's been the core of those cities, according to comments from John Murphy of Fox Lane.

A building at the southeast corner of First Avenue and Commerce Street appears to be in danger of becoming another " snaggletooth" on Lewisburg's public square like two empty lots: One next to the 50's & Fiddles business that's soon to open; and the other between Parson's Pharmacy and the Fun World game room.

Mayor Barbara Woods and other city panel leaders approached Murphy about his suggestion after the council meeting, he said. Woods has sought prices on stabilization of the roof over what's now a shell of a building at First and East Commerce, said Murphy who's been invited to another city meeting where the focus could be on funding.

Murphy has noted that the city authorized a low interest loan from a revolving loan fund held by the city to the 50's and Fiddles music venue and restaurant under development next to the Marshall County Community Theatre. He suggests use of that money to prevent another "snaggletooth."

The origin of the money is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Through an Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) money was provided to the city to help continue development of a Japanese auto parts business here. The company repaid the loan to the city. In turn, it named the account holding that money a UDAG fund even though the money could be used by the city for virtually any purpose it chose.

Some $100,000 of that money has been set aside for oversight by the city's Community Development Board and it's decided to loan the money in amounts of $20,000 to projects around the county courthouse.

"Why not use some of that money to buy the building and stabilize it?" Murphy asked during a weekend telephone interview to follow up on his proposal.

Other buildings in that original part of the city are apparently in poor repair and the city could take a leading role, Murphy suggested.

"Find a way to stabilize these, and sell them to a developer," he said.

The building at First and Commerce was sold at auction for $8,000 and some steps toward renovation have been taken but the front of it has been boarded up for months.

Murphy's motive is strictly from a "civic point of view," he said.

He comes to the subject after some experience in private business and public service. He has degrees in electrical engineering and business management. He's worked for Hardaway Construction, and, during Lamar Alexander's administration as governor, Murphy was the director of national marketing for the state. He moved to Lewisburg in 1982.

Asked if the city should demolish the First and Commerce building, Murphy mentioned Memphis and an empty lot on Lewisburg's square.

"Look at the Ginsburg situation," he said, describing the lot on the south side of the square once owned by Myer Ginsburg who owned other buildings on the square. "It was knocked down.

"If it is knocked down," Murphy asked about the corner lot, "will there be something done?"

In Memphis, the fašade of a building was stabilized and then maintained with modern structural work for another building, he said.

It could happen here, he said.

Development districts are created in all kinds of cities. Murfreesboro established such a district to preserve an historic public square and nearby buildings, while Brentwood did it to create a new town center.