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Historic Roanoke buildings likely coming down

Two historic buildings in downtown Roanoke may have just received their last rites.

In an effort to start cleaning up a decrepit stretch of buildings on Chestnut Street, just off of Main Street, the Roanoke City Council Monday declared two historically significant buildings nuisance properties and agreed to abate those nuisances.

In layman’s terms, that means that both buildings will likely be leveled within the coming months.

The two buildings – one near the corner of Chestnut and West Point Street that served as Roanoke’s original city hall, and the other the former Masons’ building two doors down – are in such states of disrepair that neither the owners nor the city could find the reason or the resources to try to save them.

“We’re not in the business of taking people’s buildings,” said Roanoke mayor Jill Patterson-Hicks. “But this is a matter of public safety, and something had to be done.”

The former city hall building in particular has been sporadically raining loose bricks onto the sidewalk and surrounding buildings for months. Owner Rodney Wright made an attempt to halt that damage, but those attempts did not meet the city’s satisfaction or bring the building up to code.

Although no date of construction for the building could be verified, in a twist of coincidence the Leader was able to find an article that stated that the Roanoke City Council agreed to sell the city hall building and move the city’s operations to another location on March 9, 1922 – exactly 100 years ago today.

As for the old Masons’ building, owner Jimmy Allen appeared before the council Monday to plead his case for more time.

“I’d like to try to save the building,” he said.

But when questioned about specific plans for restoring it, Allen was unable to provide the council with a firm timeline. This, after the council previously awarded Allen a 45-day extension on his abatement. That extension has since expired.

The three-story building was constructed in 1914, but has not been occupied in decades. The roof has partially collapsed in the rear of the building and the interior floors and staircase are rotted, making the upper floors unreachable.

Chestnut Street as a whole has become a grapevine of crumbling old buildings. The Leader Building, which sits between the former city hall and the Masons’ building, is also in advanced stages of disrepair. The former Dunn Chevrolet building across the street has partially collapsed, and cleanup has begun on the fallen-in portion of it.

When a city votes to abate a nuisance property it basically has the option to relieve the city of the nuisance in whatever way it sees fit. Sometimes that means repairing or cleaning up the property, but oftentimes it means razing the building on the property that is creating the nuisance as that is typically the most reasonable and economically feasible option.

The city will likely have to put out a request for bids for contractors to carry out the demolition of the two Chestnut Street properties.

Back to city hall

Monday’s meeting of the Roanoke City Council will be the final meeting at the city’s justice center courtroom. The city moved the meetings to that room in early 2020 because it is larger than the council meeting room at city hall, and provided more space for social distancing at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But with the pandemic receding and vaccinations widespread, the council no longer saw the need for the larger space and agreed to move the meetings back to city hall.

The next meeting, scheduled for March 21, will take place in the council meeting room at city hall at 6 p.m.

Kids Town cameras

The council agreed Monday to spend $6,264 for the purchase and installation of security cameras at Kids Town park.

The cameras will go up in the coming weeks and are meant to serve as a deterrent for vandalism and general misbehavior at the park.

Alcohol license

The council also agreed Monday to award the alcohol permit for the new Mexican restaurant that will be opening soon in the building that was formerly home to Tres Hermanos.

former Masons’ building

former Roanoke city hall

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