Avoid­ing an­other Nash fate

Peters­burg's his­toric com­mu­nity works with city over fu­ture of Iron­works site

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Sean Jones Staff Writer

PETERS­BURG – Among many of the city’s his­toric riches lies the old Peters­burg Iron­works site that once built rail­way lo­co­mo­tives. Now a quaint and quiet re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity, the old red-brick cam­pus has been mostly re­stored into apart­ments with the ex­cep­tion of one no­table por­tion – a north­west­ern court­yard, rec­og­nized for its long-de­com­mis­sioned smoke stack.

That court­yard once housed the smelt­ing and con­struc­tion fa­cil­i­ties have been dor­mant and un­de­vel­oped for at least 30 years. This is one six pos­si­ble prop­er­ties that Peters­burg’s his­toric so­ci­eties may look to sal­vage and re­store for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

The his­toric com­mu­nity felt it had failed the city

the de­mo­li­tion of the 208-year-old John Nash Build­ing in Jan­uary – along with its his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant sec­ond-story arch­way that pre­dates a sim­i­lar arch in Vir­ginia’s gover­nor’s man­sion. The His­toric Peters­burg Foun­da­tion, the Peters­burg Preser­va­tion Task Force and city of­fi­cials held a meet­ing this week to or­ga­nize an ef­fort to save fur­ther build­ings from harm.

Preser­va­tion­ists, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, de­vel­op­ers, con­trac­tors, real es­tate ex­perts, lawyers and bankers were among those in­vited to the meet­ing that had a turnout of 55 peo­ple. Their di­verse back­grounds are nec­es­sary to com­bat the myr­iad of is­sues in­volved in pre­vent­ing an­other Nash de­mo­li­tion.

Along with ob­vi­ous is­sue of age and struc­tural in­tegrity, these sit­u­a­tions be­come more com­plex with stum­bling blocks like city zon­ing, enor­mous long-term to­tal re­hab costs, busi­ness po­ten­tial and own­er­ship.

The His­toric Peters­burg Foun­da­tion com­piled a list of six prop­er­ties that are in crit­i­cal con­di­tion at the present mo­ment. The meet­ing split into six groups to in­di­vid­u­ally ex­am­ine each prop­erty and come up with so­lu­tions.

The HPTF says these so­lu­tions have to be prac­ti­cal and grounded in re­al­ity. One group came back with the answer: “We’re not sure there’s any real in­vest­ment po­ten­tial with this prop­erty.”

“A lot of peo­ple think it will be in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive,” said H. Ed­ward “Chip” Mann, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Peters­burg Preser­va­tion Task Force. “If you go to a big guy and ask for help, they’re go­ing to give you a $700,000 project, they will talk high-end, whereas a bunch of peo­ple just want a small, un­der $25,000 rem­edy to ad­dress a very spe­cific prob­lem.”

Mann says that smaller lo­cal con­trac­tors and builders can fix small prob­lems one at a time to keep build­ings sta­ble while own­ers get fi­nanc­ing in place.

All of the prop­er­ties the groups looked at are in­side the city’s 11 his­toric dis­tricts, which makes own­ers el­i­gi­ble for state grant fund­ing. HPF ear­lier stated that it also has 150 easements at its dis­posal to aid prop­erty own­ers. In the end how­ever, prop­erty own­ers have the fi­nal say on how to com­plete the la­bo­ri­ous re­hab process.

The meet­ing hosted one spe­cial guest. Genevieve Keller is a na­tion­ally known leader in his­toric preser­va­tion and cul­tural land­scape prac­tice who has taught cour­ses in the sub­ject at Mary Wash­ing­ton, Iowa State and now at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia. She has been com­ing to Peters­burg for decades to visit col­leagues to dis­cuss the city’s his­tory. She also served on the board for the Bat­tersea Foun­da­tion, a Peters­burg­based his­toric so­ci­ety.

“It makes it dif­fi­cult be­cause Peters­burg doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have the hous­ing crunch of other cities, which leads to build­ings be­ing un­used and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion,” Keller said, “Be­cause you have va­cancy rates, peo­ple can just move on to the next build­ing.”

She says that there are too many va­cant prop­er­ties to choose from that the cost and chal­lenge of a 200-plus-year-old struc­ture gives lit­tle in­cen­tive to a new­comer.

De­spite this chal­lenge, Keller is con­fi­dent that com­mu­nity be­ing cre­ated by the 55 meet­ing at­ten­dees has po­ten­tial to save the city.

“There’s a lot of tal­ent,” she said.

Keller cited the city’s re­sources like the Ap­po­mat­tox River, abun­dance of nearby na­tional parks and thriv­ing restau­rant scene as pos­i­tives for the city’s devel­op­ment to bring in ea­ger prop­erty own­ers.

“You have to have a use for [his­toric prop­er­ties],” she said. “I think Peters­burg has a great deal of po­ten­tial. A large num­ber of these are on the his­toric reg­istry, and a lot of ex­ist­ing build­ings have been done us­ing tax cred­its. Peo­ple were pos­i­tive at the end of the day… I imag­ine there will be sev­eral groups around to ad­vise and di­rect this project.”

The city has been sup­port­ive of this un­der­tak­ing by the HPF and PPTF. The coun­cil held off de­mo­li­tion of the Nash build­ing for two weeks to give the his­toric groups time to try and save the build­ing. They were present at the meet­ing, and praised by Mann for their pas­sion and sup­port of the city’s struc­tural ar­ti­facts.

[SEAN JONES/PROGRESS-IN­DEX.COM]

The site of the old Petes­r­bug Iron­works that used to build rail­way lo­co­mo­tives. This is one of the po­ten­tial sites that his­toric so­ci­eties are look­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate and save.

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