Owners say tax abatements should be incentive to maintain buildings
By Chris Paschenko
A Chamber of Commerce beautification award sign is among the junk strewn behind a deteriorating, downtown Decatur building.
A strong wind could spell doom for the single-story structure in the 300 block of Second Avenue Southeast, which is owned by Victor Melonas. Its brick façade has separated from the buildings on either side and is leaning forward.
On March 3, the brick façade of Charles Woodruff’s Bank Street Northeast building spilled across the sidewalk and into the street. A city official blamed the collapse on poor maintenance, and Woodruff had the 1920’s structure demolished.
Ralph and Glenna Jones, who own the Casa Grande Hotel and other Second Avenue Southeast buildings, said they’re tired of other owners letting their buildings deteriorate.
They asked the City Council to force owners to maintain their buildings.
“I served as president of the Downtown Renovation Association for several years and found it very difficult to encourage improvement downtown,” Ralph Jones said. “I think the city should condemn buildings not up to code after giving individual owners time to bring it up to code. If they don’t do it, it should be torn down or sold at auction.”
The council was receptive to the Joneses and has asked for more details. If a building needs to be condemned, the city’s Community Development Department is summoned. Council President Billy Jackson said the department has greatly reduced its backlog.
“We’ve made great efforts to increase numbers in the department to address issues like that,” Jackson said. “But we only have four inspectors, and everybody’s got a neighbor that’s in violation.”
The Joneses, who are renovating a Second Avenue Southeast building that burned, are also asking for tax incentives to help owners renovate historic structures downtown.
Ralph Jones said he has considered turning the Casa Grande Hotel, which burned and was rebuilt in 1904, into apartments.
“Every time we build a building or improve one, the tax assessor comes by and increases our taxes,” Jones said. “That’s a discouragement. Getting a 10-year tax break for new construction, I think, is reasonable. We do it for industry.”
Randy and Judith Tardy, who recently bought, renovated and opened shops next to Melonas’ building, said they support tax incentives to redevelop property.
In addition to the Second Avenue Southeast building with the leaning façade, Melonas owns and remodeled a connecting building, which is home to a salon and boutique. He said he’s aware of the leaning façade.
“I’ve had the buildings several years, and it’s come out about two inches in the last six or seven years,” Melonas said. “I was waiting on the Tardys to finish their renovation, and I plan to take it all the way down and build it back up.”
Melonas said he would also appreciate tax incentives to help the private sector restore Decatur’s historic buildings.
“I’ve got plans to start working on it this year,” he said. “Hopefully, as soon as it warms up, I’ll redo the fronts of the building.”
Melonas has also renovated Café 113 on Grant Street Southeast. He said the renovation of his Second Avenue Southeast building would be thorough.
“Not just a patch-over,” he said. “But it takes a lot longer to do it that way. If you want it to be there another 50 years, that’s the way it’s got to be done.”
As for the beautification sign, Melonas said he found it in the trash.
“When I get to remodeling, I was going to stick it in front as kind of a joke,” Melonas said.
Decatur needs signs on the major thoroughfares and interstate, directing traffic to the unique historic commerce district,” he said.
“If you go to Nashville you’ve got Printer’s Alley. Go to Memphis and you’ve got Beale Street. In Chattanooga you’ve got the aquarium and New Orleans has the French Quarter. You have to have the eateries to attract people to the downtown district,” Melonas said.
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