Preservationists Discuss Jail Options
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WATER VALLEY – The Water Valley Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) held a fact-finding meeting with representatives with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) to seek options to help preserve a county-owned building that served as a jail from 1906 until 1966.
Located on Blackmur Drive adjacent to the county courthouse, the unoccupied building came under scrutiny by county supervisors last month after an outer layer of bricks separated from the front of the building, falling to the ground. After initial discussion about the fate of the old jail, supervisors hired Mark Watson Engineering to perform a structural assessment on the building that was designated a Mississippi Landmark in 1991. It is also listed as a contributing element in the Water Valley Historic District, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
HPC Chairman Robbie Fisher presided over the noon Zoom meeting on March 15 as Meredith Massey, Chief of Preservation Planning and Certified Local Government Coordinator at MDAH, and Katherine Anderson, MDAH’s Mississippi Landmarks Administrator and interim Chief of Technological Preservation, provided insight about grant opportunities to fund renovations or options if supervisors opted to sell the building to a private owner.
“Ideally, I think MDAH, the county and y’all want to see the building placed into use as something,” Anderson told commissioners. “It depends on who has the money to do that as to what that something could be. If it is something for the county, it could be offices or possibly storage.”
“Record storage or something like that is what we see often times with annexed buildings associated with courthouses. Offices would probably be preferable,” Massey added.
Massey also said the building could be eligible for a Community Heritage Preservation Grant, the largest brick-and-mortar grant administered by MDAH. This grant requires a 20 percent match from local sources.
Anderson cautioned that state’s Antiquities Law will require the county to submit an application to MDAH for approval before the property could be transferred to a private owner.
“But if there was a developer or someone who wanted to use it, particularly for an income-producing purpose, it could be a tax credit project,” Anderson said. “The tax credit program is the big draw… essentially 45 percent of the qualified rehabilitation expenditure of a rehabilitation.”
The historic tax credits for eligible projects – 20 percent from federal incentives programs and 25 percent from the State of Mississippi – can either be used to offset the historic building owner’s federal and state tax liability or transferred to a corporate investor.
“There is a precedent for that already in Water Valley. The Everest Project (Big Yank building) was city-owned and sold,” Commissioner Mickey Howley noted. “That project qualified for federal and state historic credits.”
Howley also acknowledged that the county may not be willing to sell property so close to the courthouse.
“But the city was more than happy to sell Big Yank, it turned out great,” Howley said.
Massey also explained that under the state’s Antiquities Law, the county would also be required to submit a permit to MDAH before any construction, demolition, excavation or ground disturbing activity is done on the property.
“Generally our board is not going grant a permit for a building that is not falling down. It would have to have significant and unfeasible-to-repair issues that would have to be demonstrated,” she added.
According to discussion in the meeting, any work performed at the old jail, including demolition, will also require the county to apply for Certificate of Appropriateness from the Water Valley Historic Preservation Commission. Other commissioners participating in the meeting included Ryan Walker and Nicolas Trepanier as well as Water Valley’s appointed Certified Local Government Coordinator Cinnamon Foster.