CHARLOTTE – Three years ago a meth lab in a second floor apartment across the street from City Hall exploded, extensively damaging the building. Today, the property is an eyesore for city officials and anyone driving or walking near the entrance to the city’s downtown.
It could cost the city as much as $50,000 to demolish the structure and develop the park, but this month the City Council signed off on an agreement to take ownership of the building and demolish it.
Their commitment to the project is contingent on private donors raising $35,000 by the end of July to purchase the building, which occupies 108 and 110 E. Lawrence Ave. Nearly all of the funds have been pledged. Donations are being solicited privately.
If they succeed and after an initial environmental study of the land there is completed, local developer Anthony Faulkner said he’ll buy the building and deed the land over to the city.
Officials say the project would get rid of an eyesore and replace it with an inviting open space likely to draw people into the city.
“What it does is open up the entryway into downtown,” said Gregg Guetschow, Charlotte’s city manager.
Removing an eyesore
Right now the windows of the building on East Lawrence Avenue, vacant except for one tenant living in a second-floor apartment, are dark, and a “For Sale” sign is taped to the inside glass.
Tim Lewis, Charlotte’s mayor, said you can ask anyone in the city about the structure. They’ll all tell you the same thing.
“People refer to that building as the ‘meth building,'” he said. “Having that building there is hindering the progress the city is making in revitalizing the downtown.”
In March of 2013 Derek Ayers, 31, was cooking methamphetamine in an apartment on the second floor when the volatile concoction exploded. The west wall of the structure was severely damaged. Ayers was later sentenced in Eaton County Circuit Court to three to 20 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay $18,000 in restitution to the city and the building’s owner at the time, Bruce Fox.
Faulkner, an Olivet resident and the owner of Precedent Properties, owns an office building next door at 112 E. Lawrence Ave. and last spring he wanted to buy 108 and 110 E. Lawrence Ave. to develop seven or eight parking spaces.
But his vision shifted in the fall when he realized there was community support for turning it into something more beneficial. With support from other business owners and city officials he entered into an agreement to buy the property for $35,000. Then he started collecting donations and pledges toward the purchase price.
“I want to make sure we can rally people around the concept of making a change,” Faulkner said. “It’s for the good of the community.”
Grant money will help pay for the cost of initial environmental studies of the property. Eight years ago a dry cleaning business operated there and chemicals may have contaminated the soil, said Guetschow,
Tangible proof of progress
Jason Vanderstelt is co-owner of Dutch Brothers Development Group, which has offices just a few doors down from the blighted building, and Vanderstelt is helping to raise money to buy it.
He said the pocket park effort is the perfect example of a collective community desire to revitalize the city. Once it’s finished he said it will be an example of progress.
“What better way is there to spark the rebirth of the downtown?” Vanderstelt said. “This is going to be a tangible project that people can look to for excitement. I believe the community wants a project like this to be proud of. This is something they can see that they pass every single day.”
And Guetschow said it could happen by the end of the year.
If the purchase price funds can be raised and the city takes ownership of the building this summer, Guetschow said the demolition and park development will probably take place in tandem with the reconstruction of a large city parking lot located directly behind it. The city has already budgeted about $500,000 for that work.
Vanderstelt said it’s the perfect way to remove a blighted property.
“We want to erase that and put something there that’s beautiful.”