PAWV is publicizing its letter to the City of Beckley about the potential demolition of the Beckley Newspaper Building to demonstrate that This Place Matters and to share the organization’s questions with the public. The following is the letter’s content in its entirety.
On behalf of the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV), the statewide nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation, I am writing in regards to the Beckley Newspaper Building located at 345 Prince Street, which is the subject of a possible demolition project using HUD federally-funded Community Development Block Grants (CBDG). The PAWV respectfully requests that this project be reconsidered and the funds be repurposed as they can be used for various purposes that contribute to the economic vitality of the district and the downtown, providing a great benefit to low- to moderate-income residents.
The purpose of the CDBG is to benefit low- to moderate-income citizens in your community. It is the understanding of the PAWV that the Beckley Newspaper Building is owned by a private citizen, and the citizen has neglected the building for years, in addition to not addressing broken windows and insecurity. This has led to the building’s consideration as being a slum and blight on the City of Beckley. It is also the understanding of PAWV that demolishing this building could be considered Clearance under the National Objective for Slum/Blight Removal. For the CDBG to be eligible in this case, the project is meant to “benefit all residents in a particular area, and at least 51% of those residents are low- to moderate-income persons (CDBG grant guidelines).” The PAWV humbly submits the following questions related to the implementation of these guidelines when selecting this project:
- If the property is cleared, will the City own the lot by acquiring it through eminent domain, donation, or a tax sale?
- What is the planned use for the lot after the building is cleared?
- Will the City be providing financial assistance to the private owner to construct a new property, and if so, what will this construction project be?
- How will this project benefit low- to moderate-income persons?
- What are the census tract details to demonstrate this project will benefit at least 51% of the residents in the area?
In addition to clearance, CDBGs can be used for rehabilitation and historic preservation of buildings. The PAWV has additional questions related to this project and how it could continue to contribute to the national register designation and the local historic preservation ordinance.
- Since the Beckley Newspaper Building is located in the Beckley Courthouse Square National Register District, has the City considered using the CDBG funds for historic preservation or building rehabilitation?
- According to the CDBG guidelines, these funds could be used to eliminate specific conditions detrimental to public safety and health. Has there been a cost comparison to do this kind of rehabilitation project rather than clearance of the building? If so, can this cost comparison be made public to the PAWV and the residents of the City of Beckley?
- Has the City considered assisting the property owner with mothballing the building? This would involve securing the envelope of the building (i.e. windows and doors) until a further use or sale can be determined for the building. This is a common method used for historic buildings all over the country and is meant to keep out vagrants and the weather, thus protecting the building from further deterioration.
- Has the Beckley Historic Landmarks Commission been consulted about this project according to the local historic preservation ordinance? As the Certified Local Government for Beckley, the Commission has the authority and responsibility to review actions affecting the historical character of the district.
- Has the State Historic Preservation Office been consulted for this project? Is Section 106 review necessary for this project since federal funds are being used, and if so, has this process been initiated?
The Beckley Newspaper Building is a historic site in the nationally-significant Beckley Courthouse Square Historic District. This honorary designation creates funding opportunities for all the property owners in the district. These funding opportunities include historic preservation grants (up to 50% of expenditures) and a historic tax credit (up to 30% of expenditures for commercial properties). The structure at 345 Prince Street is directly connected to the property at 341 Prince Street by a fire escape. These two properties should be treated as one cultural resource, although the National Register listing for the Beckley Courthouse Square Historic District describes these two buildings as separate. It is important to recognize that the 66 year-old building at 345 Prince Street, which is where the Raleigh Register newspapers were printed, is directly associated with the Gorman, Sheatsley, and Hatchinson or Beckley Newspaper Office building next to it. Back then the newspaper probably built two separate buildings because of the noise from the printing presses and the greater fire risk in the newsprint building. According to the November 1956 Telephone Directory for Beckley, when the Raleigh Register newspaper was operating, both buildings shared the same address, 341 Prince Street. However, by the time the Beckley Courthouse Square Historic District was listed in 1994 the two buildings had different addresses and received separate evaluations. WWNR radio occupied the former Raleigh Register newsprint building with its current 345 Prince Street address while Gorman and Sheatsley Law firm occupied the former Beckley Newspaper building at 341 Prince Street. With this information in mind, these two properties are directly related and connected. The PAWV submits one final question:
- How will this clearance project structurally affect the property at 341 Prince Street?
The PAWV would like to thank the City of Beckley for the opportunity to submit the comments and questions related to the Beckley Newspaper Building project. We would also like to offer our services related to developing a historic preservation plan for the Beckley Newspaper Building and for any projects affecting the Beckley Courthouse Square National Historic District. The PAWV is sensitive to the challenges the City faces on a daily basis but respectfully suggests that the CDBG funds could be used in an alternative way that benefits low- to moderate-income citizens, as well as preserving the historic character of the district. Please contact me for any questions about the content of this letter.