Northland Communications obtained permission Tuesday, by a 4-0 vote of Statesboro City Council, to tear down the 1923 wooden railroad depot the cable TV and internet company owns and uses as its local headquarters.
This is the latest of several recent permissions the council has issued for tearing down buildings in the downtown historic districts, where such an action requires a finding of necessity by the city.
Council received copies of plans for a proposed new Northland Communications building that will replace the depot on the 32 East Vine St. site. With a red brick exterior, a green metal roof with matching brackets and shutter-like window awnings, the building is designed to resemble the depot in style, but with different materials.
“The building we’re in now, it’s just really in bad shape,” Lee Johnson, Northland Communications Corp. divisional vice president, told the council. “The termites have eat it up; the rafters in the ceiling are gone; the floor is gone. It’s becoming a liability.
“We’ve spent a lot of money remodeling, replacing and redoing, but the time has come now to get rid of it and replace it,” he said.
Northland’s Statesboro Business Manager Tim Kelley handed the mayor and council the plans by DPR Architecture, a Statesboro firm.
“That still kind of looks like a train depot,” District 4 Councilman John Riggs observed.
Northland worked with Frank D’Arcangelo, one of DPR’s principal architects, to design the new 4,000-square-foot office building “in keeping with the theme of the depot as it is now,” Johnson said.
No objection heard
Mayor Jonathan McCollar asked if anyone was there to speak against the demolition permit, and nobody came forward. The brief public hearing was part of Tuesday morning’s regular council meeting.
Frank Neal, city Planning and Development Department director, had spoken to start the hearing.
He did not read all of the details aloud. But the city planning staff’s typed report describes the depot not only as a “contributing property” to the East Vine Street Warehouse and Depot District’s designation but as one of only two contributing buildings left standing in “the remains” of that district.
The other is a warehouse, which Neal said dates from 1906-1908. The depot, according to the city report, was built in 1923 as a “reconstruction of an 1899 depot which was destroyed by fire in 1922.”
“The late Victorian-style depot was reconstructed using the same plan as the original and was the last railroad depot constructed in pre-World War II Georgia,” the report states.
But it concludes: “Staff does not have a recommendation regarding DSDA (18-04-01),” which was the request for a demolition permit.
Neal noted that the city had reached out to the Bulloch County Historical Society. City Council members received copies of an email a city planner sent the society’s Vice President Brent Tharp, Ph.D., and Tharp’s reply. He wrote that two Historical Society board members were “talking directly with the owners about the condition of the building, their plans and possibilities for commemorating the history of the building in their project,” so the society would not make a presentation at the hearing.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1989, the East Vine Street Warehouse and Depot District contained other old buildings before AgSouth Farm Credit’s expansion of its corporate offices. After the financial cooperative announced in 2016 that it would consolidate its headquarters to Statesboro, City Council that November unanimously gave AgSouth permission to tear down three dilapidated masonry warehouses, more than 100 years old, within the district.
Those made way for AgSouth’s 12,500-square-foot operations center at 20 East Vine St., christened in April. Meanwhile, in March the council had given AgSouth permission to tear down the so-called Darley Building, a commercial building dating from about 1920 but extensively remodeled in 1985. This allowed the creation of a landscaped courtyard facing Vine Street, the final step in AgSouth’s plan for a corporate campus.
“We want it to look good,” Northland’s Lee Johnson told the council, and laughed in adding that the company’s site had been made to “look pretty bad” in comparison by AgSouth’s recent efforts.
Northland plans to replace a chain-link fence with a wooden one and move spools of cable and other stored items to a company-owned site in another part of town, he said in answer to questions from District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum. The Blind Willie McTell Trail skirts the current fence.
D’Arcangelo, the architect, did not attend the meeting but was phoned Wednesday.
“I am kind of a historic preservation person, and I hate to see the old buildings go, but I understand the economic impacts and I understand that to redo a building like that is going to cost a lot of money and you still end up with an old building,” he said. “The owner really is looking for a new building in keeping with the AgSouth theme. It’s a whole new district down there.”
Another of DPR’s three principal architects, John Rule, led in designing the AgSouth campus and the third, Kevin Palmer, did some of the renderings, D’Arcangelo said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.