by Whitney Kenerly

Preservationists get a shot at making history | @YesWeekWhitney

After the disappointment felt by Preservation Greensboro when the North Carolina General Assembly failed to renew the state’s historic tax credits last week, the organization can celebrate a small victory for the Cascade Saloon.

Built in 1895, the Cascade Saloon at 408 and 410 S. Elm Street is one of the oldest buildings in the city. It looks pretty good for its age, but it has been in desperate need of repairs for several years.

The City of Greensboro used eminent domain to take over the Cascade Saloon earlier this year and has since debated what to do with the building.

In July, Council members reviewed the options. The best demolition bid quoted the cost of tearing down the structure at the high fee $600,000 due to the adjacent train tracks, which see a high volume of trains come through the city each day.

Preservation Greensboro offered to take ownership of the building in order to stabilize and restore it, but asked the city for $175,000 to help subsidize the costs associated with renovating the nearly 4,000 square foot, two-story structure.

Marsh Prause represented Preservation Greensboro for the agreement, and made the case for the transfer of ownership.

“We’re offering to take this problem on for you,” said Prause.

“It has negative value. We’re asking you to offset some of the liability and risk we are willing to take on for you.”

Even though the city would have to use taxpayer funds to hand over the building, the simple math of the cost difference made the choice clear for councilman Zack Matheny.

“We were going to spend the money no matter what,” said Matheny.

Matheny also added that Preservation Greensboro would be a better owner for the building, pointing out the group’s experience with and knowledge of historic preservation and the city’s track record of property ownership.

“We [as a city] aren’t the best landlords,” said Matheny. Once restored, the building could also generate revenue for the city by housing a local business.

“There will be jobs in this building when it is preserved,” said Dawn Chaney of Chaney Properties. Chaney recently purchased another historic empty building in downtown Greensboro, and has cited the 25 jobs that the new tenants, 1618 restaurant, will bring to the area.

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower voiced her concern over Cascade Saloon’s proximity to the railroad tracks, and was doubtful that any business would ever want to be there.

“I don’t see anybody buying it and putting an office in there and listening to the train coming through 30 times a day,” said Hightower.

Hightower and councilman Jamal Fox also felt that certain aspects of the agreement were too vague. According to Preservation Greensboro, a private donor has offered to provide funding for the restoration, but the organization could not reveal the donor’s identity due to the current nondisclosure agreement. This was not acceptable for Fox.

“If we are going to provide tax payer dollars I think we should know who they are,” said Fox.

Hightower also seemed apprehensive that restoration efforts would disrupt local businesses, while Prause pointed out that tearing the building down would be just as complicated.

“Anything that happens with this building will create some access issues,” said Prause.

The economic potential for the building was a major selling point for supporters of the agreement, but some of the most compelling arguments came from those who pleaded for the preservation of such an historic property.

While councilwoman Nancy Hoffman brought up the potential tax revenue that the city could collect from the property, she also shared her appreciation for the beauty of cities like Charleston and Savannah due to the reverence that those places have for architectural history.

“We have an opportunity to save an historic building,” said Hoffman.

“Once it is fixed up it has the potential to be an icon,” said Prause. “It could stand out more than any building downtown.”

Members of Preservation Greensboro said that the timing was critical, and that if the city wanted to save Cascade Saloon, then this was its chance.

Just east of the train tracks, the building is somewhat symbolic of the revitalizing efforts for all of downtown. For years, buildings in the south and east sides of town have been neglected. As structures have been purchased and transformed into new businesses, the entire atmosphere of downtown Greensboro has been remodeled one historic building at a time.

In a situation with only three options – tear down the historic building for $600,000, let someone else restore it into a operating business for $175,000, or do nothing and risk the liability of the nearly 120-year-old structure caving in on itself – the choice was clear to Vaughan.

“To me it is just a no brainer,” said Vaughan. The council will pass the ownership of Cascade Saloon, but will not pay out the $175,000 to Preservation Greensboro until the organization provides more transparency as to who the donors are, and what they plan on doing with the structure.

For now it appears that this nineteenth century structure could have a twenty-first century future. !