Buildings Coming Down?
By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – A pair of historic Main Street buildings could be demolished after the owner applied for a demolition permit at city hall last Friday. Water Valley native Terry Warren, who owns the Wagner buildings on North Main, told the Herald that he applied for the permit last Friday.
“We haven’t been granted permission to do it, but I have applied,” Warren explained. “I have a contractor and we are looking at structural issues,” he added about exterior walls shared with the adjoining buildings.
Warren initially planned to open a restaurant, country store, bar and venue space in the buildings, but abruptly pulled the plug on the project in November, 2017, after his request to change the city’s beer ordinance did not receive support from aldermen. Warren had made the pitch to city officials a month earlier, explaining that the current beer ordinance makes it difficult to operate a restaurant with a bar. He also requested changes to the city’s sound ordinance.
His requests prompted a lengthy conversation during the October, 2017, city meeting about both ordinances and aldermen ultimately voted unanimously to appoint a committee to generate feedback on the ordinances instead of making immediate changes without public input.
The public meeting was held on Oct. 26, 2017, with eight committee members appointed by aldermen and the public in attendance. The meeting ended with multiple recommendations for changes, including striking Section 7 of the city’s beer ordinance that requires a restaurant to only serve a beer to a customer with a meal or in anticipation of a meal.
During the November, 2017, city board meeting, the recommended change to Section 7 of the beer ordinance did not pass after Ward 1 Alderman Kagan Coughlin’s motion died for a lack of a second. During that November meeting, several city officials voiced opposition to making any changes to the ordinances after the mayor’s seat had been vacated and a special election was looming. At that time former Mayor Larry Hart had stepped down and alderman-at-large Donald Gray was presiding as Mayor Pro Tempore, and in the coming months Gray won a special election for mayor and Herbie Rogers won a special election for alderman-at-large.
“They sent a clear message, I couldn’t sit and wait for the beer ordinance to be changed,” Warren said Tuesday about the city meeting over a year ago.
“It put a pretty bad taste in my mouth, I told people I would wait until my dad passed, and that is exactly what I am doing,” Warren continued, adding that he didn’t want his father to take heat from the community when the buildings are demolished. His father, Gene Warren, passed away on Dec. 30.
Warren added that he has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the buildings, but much of the inside renovation has not been completed.
“I am not spending any more money on them. And I am not going to let them stay the way they are either, unfinished,” Warren added. “I should come out ahead, tax-wise, tearing them down.”
“Looking back, I didn’t foresee the difficulty with small-town government. I thought they would work with me. When Larry Hart was mayor, he was trying to work with me. When the new board and mayor took office, the conversation stopped and things went downhill from there,” Warren said.
Warren said selling the buildings would likely not be feasible, citing the investment he already had in purchasing the buildings and renovations.
“It’s too much money,” Warren said. “I knew I was going to lose money when I started, but I had hopes over time the building would be something very special for Water Valley and eventually become profitable.”
The only other scenario Warren suggested would be to find someone willing to rent the buildings and spend money to complete the interior restorations.
“I would work that out with the rent,” Warren explained, referring to an up-front investment by a renter in lieu of paying rent for a period of time equivalent with the money spent on the building.
City Clerk Vivian Snider told the Herald that when a demolition permit is filed at city hall, the next step is a review by the building inspector.