A proposal by the town of Elkin to demolish the McNeill Building on South Bridge Street is temporarily on hold as a Mount Airy developer investigates the possibility of restoring the two-story historical structure.
Gene Rees, who has developed a number of historical buildings in Mount Airy’s downtown, agreed to look into the feasibility of restoring the building for use after learning from Laura Gaylord, Elkin’s Main Street and community manager, about its impending demolition.
The building, owned by Mac McNeill, sits adjacent to the railroad tracks near the gateway to downtown and is known for the faded Pepsi mural on the south wall.
“It’s nothing we could tackle now, but I did secure a six-month option with Mac McNeill to see if it’s a viable project and what the economics and development of it would be,” Rees told the Elkin Board of Commissioners Monday night.
Rees is familiar with historic tax credits and taking advantage of those for development purposes, explained Leslie Schlender, economic development director for Elkin.
“It has a lot of challenges,” Rees told the board. “The condition of the building, I think it would have to be a high value per-square-foot as an end result and also so much reconstruction to get it back to zero.”
In addition to the high cost of the restoration, Rees said another concern is the lack of land for parking at the structure. He said that is one thing he would hope the town would work with him on if the decision was made to develop it.
“We don’t need any incentives from you, but the building is landlocked as you know,” he said.
Another issue is water pressure, and making sure there is adequate pressure if a sprinkler system had to be activated in the building. Also, the developer requested town assistance with removal of demolition debris.
“For what it’s worth, this is a long shot development,” Rees said. “What’s the probability we could do it? We have a six-month option. I can say we’ll know well inside six months if we can do anything or not, and when we decide, we won’t leave you or Mac hanging out there six months.”
He said he foresees the best use of the structure as a five-unit residential condominium facility. “Would be fairly small, $160-$180,000 a piece,” he said. “We’d have to have the project presold before we begin.”
As far as stabilizing the structure, which Rees said has most issues with the side wall, rear wall and roof, the developer wouldn’t do that until after a transaction of sale is completed. He said if the town wanted to go ahead and have it stabilized, then the town would have to agree to reimburse the developer if no sale and development takes place.
“The most sensible thing to do is to see if we can develop it,” Rees said. “If we can, then we will take the risk of the side wall and rear wall stabilization and put a roof on it to prevent any further deterioration.”
He did say that if the development is successful, it could add $1 million to the town’s tax base.
“I think is less than 50 percent probability that we’ll be able to develop it,” Rees said. “But we will go through the exercise” of determining its viability.
Between state and federal tax credits, he said an investor would get about 45 percent of the cost of development returned.
“It’s a tough one,” Rees said, but with the building being a gateway into town and the importance of the historic properties, it is worth investigating.
Also during the meeting, the board:
• Approved a waiver to the “no cruising” laws for the dates of the Downtown Elkin group’s cruise-ins, beginning the fourth Saturday in May.
• Recessed its meeting to its first budget worksession on May 1 from 2 to 5 p.m. at town hall. Other budget-related dates approved include a second worksession if needed on May 15 from 2 to 5 p.m.; a third worksession if needed on May 22 from 2 to 5 p.m.; a recommended budget available for public inspection at town hall by May 22; and public hearing and possible board approval of the budget on June 11.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.