RDC eyes former bank as permanent farmers market

Tearing down former First Scotland Bank could have tax advantages

By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — Members of the Rockingham Downtown Corporation on Tuesday discussed the future and how some of the old, dilapidated buildings might not fit.

The questions then became what to do with them and how to make it happen.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The location of a former bank, in the middle of the image above balanced on the right by the ArtsRichmond building, could be razed for a permanent farmers market if a Rockingham Downtown Corporation vision comes to reality.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The location of a former bank, in the middle of the image above balanced on the right by the ArtsRichmond building, could be razed for a permanent farmers market if a Rockingham Downtown Corporation vision comes to reality.

Susan Kelly, RDC president, sent approximately 100 letters to owners of downtown buildings in hopes of generating interest in the RDC but also to bring them to the table to discuss how each building plays a role. Kelly said at Tuesday’s meeting that only five have been returned, but all five respondents indicated they would like more information on the nonprofit group.

Charter RDC member Neal Cadieu eyed the former First Scotland Bank beside the ArtsRichmond building in the 100 block of East Washington Street as “a great place for a permanent farmer’s market.”

Until 2014, the farmer’s market had been once a week on Harrington Square. This year, the location changed to the parking lot of the old R.W. Goodman building at the corner of Lee and Franklin streets and moved to twice a week, Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning.

But the location is temporary. The city of Rockingham is leasing the parking lot at a rate of $300 per month each Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and each Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon until the end of October. The agreement was for the 2014 season.

The building in question is managed by Tri-City Inc., represented by owner by Neil Robinette, who inherited the building — some say eyesore — from his grandfather, Claude Smith. Holly Littlefield Bowers, owner of Bold Moves Dance Co., said she had a meeting planned with Neil Robinette later Tuesday on an unrelated matter and would try to bring the issue up.

The group consensus, however, seemed that to do anything with the building would be better than nothing.

“It’s not in good shape,” Cadieu said.

But it is, said City Planner John Massey, in compliance. Massey said after Tuesday’s meeting that the city and Tri-City representatives have had “a great relationship” over the years and anytime a complaint was lodged, unfounded or not, it was investigated by the city inspector with a company representative. He said broken windows and a roof leak all have been fixed anytime the city has called Tri-City. To his knowledge, Massey said the city has never condemned the building or taken any official action against the owner.

“The building is structurally sound,” Massey said. “I realize people think that it is ugly … but just because it is ugly doesn’t make it illegal.”

Bowers indicated that a previous discussion with Robinette in which he said that company officials “just wish it would go away.”

Kelly, meanwhile, wondered how many other properties could be in a similar situation.

In the brainstorming session, Rockingham City Councilman John Hutchinson and Mayor Steve Morris — who attend RDC meetings as representatives of downtown businesses Wells Fargo Advisors and Helms Jewelers, respectively — said it’s possible the city could raze the building at no cost to Robinette if Robinette were to donate the land to a city-operated 501c3 or another such nonprofit organization such as the RDC.

“We could make that happen,” said Hutchinson, adding that any such discussion should include City Manager Monty Crump.

Kelly emphasized that any discussion was “not an official offer from the city” but that “there are some options if (Robinette) would like to explore it.”

Morris said the city budgets approximately $30,000 to clean up dilapidated properties but those funds have rarely, if ever, been used for a downtown business.

“Not knowing what’s in the building,” Morris said, the cost of the project “could exceed the whole budget for the year.”

Morris said the city “would certainly be interested in exploring the idea.”

Robinette might be, too. Reached early Tuesday evening, Robinette said he hadn’t heard from anyone from either the city or the RDC on the matter. But the state of the building isn’t a surprise.

“I’m well aware the condition that building’s in,” Robinette said. “We would love the opportunity to do something with it. Nothing’s really presented itself yet.”

Robinette added that “anything we can do that makes sense for us, but also adds great value to the community … we’re certainly willing to consider.”

Putting a business in to occupy the building might not work, Robinette cautioned. To do so “would require a lot of updating of systems … it would require a pretty significant investment.”

Judy Cagle, RDC member and Richmond County Daily Journal advertising director, asked after the discussion took place that both active journalists present, including one each from The Pee Dee Post and the Daily Journal, refrain from reporting the substance of the discussion. The Post declined to accommodate that request.

 * * * 

The discussion generated a broader conversation on the purpose of the RDC, which has a mission statement focused on historic preservation and quality of life.

Morris acknowledged that preservation was a noble effort but that “so many (buildings) get to that point (where) they can’t be preserved.”

Cadieu agreed.

“If we started taking down the RichmondArts building, or the first city hall” — now the Rockingham Fire Department station on Lawrence Street — “that would be one thing,” Cadieu said, “but there are buildings that ought to come down to make space for something else.”

Morris said many of the older buildings have lost much of their historic purpose because they’ve been altered inside and out.

RDC member Sharon Nichols, of American Ballroom Dancing and advertising director for The Pee Dee Post, said she looked for the group to be “more future thinking.”

“How can we improve … change what’s going on,” she asked. “If we’re just maintaining history, we’re just sitting still. If we’re trying to make things happen, I think we need to change our focus and our purpose.”

Morris said that as the makeup of the RDC has changed, so too, perhaps, should its focus.

“For the first 35 years, it was basically retailers (asking) how to get more people to shop,” Morris said. “It’s a different group looking at it from what it was. That more reflects were we were, not where we are. We have changed, the world has changed.”

RDC member Keith Parsons, of CommunityOne Bank, said he’d take a crack at producing a draft version of a modified mission statement for the group to consider. The RDC next meets at 1 p.m. on Nov. 18 at the North Carolina Extension Office, 123 Caroline St., Rockingham.


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