1938 build­ing faces de­mo­li­tion

Paragould group hopes buyer will re­store old power plant

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - KEN­NETH HEARD

PARAGOULD — A down­town Paragould or­ga­ni­za­tion has un­til Jan. 31, 2018, to find a buyer for the 79-year-old City Light and Wa­ter build­ing or see it de­mol­ished.

“We’ve lost a lot of his­tor­i­cal build­ings in Paragould over the years,” said Gina Jar­rett, di­rec­tor of Main Street Paragould Inc. “The thought of los­ing an­other is heart­break­ing.”

The city- owned util­ity plans to bull­doze the build­ing if some­one doesn’t buy and re­store it, said Paragould Light, Wa­ter and Ca­ble man­ager Dar­rell Phillips. He gave Jar­rett six months to lo­cate a buyer. City work­ers will clean de­bris left in­side the build­ing within a week. Once the cost of the cleanup is de­ter­mined, the city will set a price for the build­ing, Jar­rett said.

The two-story, 10,000- square- foot brick build­ing is just west of Union Pa­cific rail­road tracks along North Sec­ond Av­enue. Four tur­bines were once housed in­side, gen­er­at­ing power for the Greene County city.

Now, the build­ing sits empty. Most of the panes in its arched win­dows are bro­ken, and doors are miss­ing. A fire rav­aged the build­ing in 2013, black­en­ing the brick walls and scorch­ing beams across the roof.

Some­one dumped a large pile of de­bris in an open area in­side a main room, and a small tree grows out of a mound of dirt where the tur­bines sat. Cloth­ing and trash lit­ter some of the other rooms, in­dica­tive of tran­sients liv­ing in­side the build­ing, Jar­rett said.

The only re­minders that it once served as a power plant are the log sheets bear­ing the util­ity com­pany’s name that are scat­tered on the floor.

The build­ing, re­ferred to by lo­cals as the “power plant,” was con­structed in 1938 af­ter vot­ers ap­proved a bond is­sue in 1933 to build it. Work­ers in­stalled the first elec­tric gen­er­a­tors in May 1938, and in Jan­uary 1939 two of the four tur­bines went into ser­vice, pow­er­ing the city’s wa­ter pump­ing sta­tion and its street lights.

The power plant also served as a re­minder for young­sters to go home at im­posed cur­few times, Jar­rett said.

Each night — at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. on week­days and mid­night on Satur­days — a city em­ployee would go to the build­ing and ac­ti­vate a loud steam whis­tle to in­di­cate the time. Al­though much of the equip­ment from the build­ing is long gone, some­one was able to save the whis­tle and still owns it, Jar­rett said.

The city built a new fa­cil­ity in 1990, and in 2004 Paragould Light, Wa­ter and Ca­ble sold the down­town build­ing to Paragould busi­ness­man John Ken­nett.

“His vi­sion was for a res­tau­rant,” Jar­rett said. “Down­town might not have been quite ready for that then.”

Ken­nett sold the prop­erty to an­other Paragould busi­ness­man who even­tu­ally sold it to yet an­other per­son. The city has since re­pur­chased the prop­erty.

The build­ing re­mained empty and be­gan de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.

“It’s ba­si­cally a shell now,” Phillips said. “We don’t even know how struc­turally sound it is.”

The build­ing is part of a sec­tion of Paragould’s down­town district, which is listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. The district is framed by Third Av­enue, King­shigh­way, 3½ Street and West High­land Street and re­flects such ar­chi­tec­tural styles as 20th Cen­tury Com­mer­cial, Clas­si­cal Re­vival and Min­i­mal Tra­di­tional, the reg­is­ter notes.

Other his­tor­i­cal down­town struc­tures, like the Clyde Mack build­ing, Hol­land Fur­ni­ture store and the Graber build­ing, all have burned.

“We’ve lost a lot,” Jar­rett said.

Pre­serv­ing his­tor­i­cal build­ings is a “strug­gle,” said Mark Christ, com­mu­nity out­reach di­rec­tor with the Arkansas His­toric Preser­va­tion Pro­gram in Lit­tle Rock.

“Some prop­er­ties de­fine the area and are a piece of his­tory,” he said. “Once they’re gone, they are gone.

“With ev­ery his­toric build­ing that you lose, you lose a piece of the heart of the town. Each build­ing has its story to tell.”

Christ said pri­vate in­vestors may be de­terred by the cost of restor­ing an old build­ing, but there are state and fed­eral tax cred­its avail­able for po­ten­tial in­vestors.

“There are ways to save some build­ings,” he said.

Jar­rett is search­ing for in­vestors for the City Light and Wa­ter build­ing, tout­ing its po­ten­tial as a res­tau­rant, ho­tel, brew­ery, mu­seum or even bowl­ing al­ley.

“We’ve al­ready had some in­ter­est in this,” she said. “It can be used for any­thing. It’s how much you want to spend.”

An en­vi­ron­men­tal team from Lit­tle Rock is in­spect­ing the fa­cil­ity to de­ter­mine if as­bestos or other toxic el­e­ments were used to build the struc­ture and if they need to be re­moved, Jar­rett said.

“We don’t have a lot of pretty build­ings left,” she said. “There’s not a lot of his­toric build­ings down­town. This is one of them.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/KEN­NETH HEARD

Gina Jar­rett, di­rec­tor of Main Street Paragould, has un­til Jan. 31 to find a buyer for the aban­doned down­town City Light and Wa­ter build­ing or the 1938 struc­ture is set for de­mo­li­tion.

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