Engineer Bret Thurmond (left to right), Attorney James Ney and property owner Kathi Russell make their case to the HPC. Photo by Dianne Yost

Engineer Bret Thurmond (left to right), Attorney James Ney and property owner Kathi Russell make their case to the HPC. Photo by Dianne Yost

By Nick Nunn, Staff Writer

Tuesday night, after almost four hours of deliberation, the Madison Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) approved an amended version of Kathi Russell’s application for the deconstruction and reconstruction of the former Mapp-Gilmore building at 200 W. Washington, including the condition that Russell provide Historic American Building Survey (HABS)-level records of the existing structure before building the new structure according to documentation of the former building, using as many salvaged bricks from the current building as possible. Russell will have to return to the HPC to receive a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) for any changes not shown in the HABS documentation.

The HPC approved the amended application unanimously, and Russell stated that she was “elated, grateful and blessed” that the HPC would entrust her with the responsibility of handling such an important undertaking.

The process approved by the HPC will involve the deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction, following the HABS-level documentation, and will also use salvageable bricks from the current structure. Those bricks will be removed carefully, cleaned and then, as much as is possible, be returned for use on the building.

James M. Ney, the attorney representing Russell during the meeting, stated to the HPC that the estimated cost of renovating the building without deconstructing the existing walls – a plan proposed during the March meeting of the HPC when Russell’s application was denied – would be more than $1.8 million dollars. The total cost of the renovated property, including the initial purchase price of more approximately $312,000, would then be driven above $2.1 million.

Ney stated that such a project would be “complex,” “risky,” “unsafe” and “cost-prohibitive.” Furthermore, since the estimated appraised worth of the building once it had been completely renovated would slightly exceed $1 million, there would be a deficit of more than $1 million from the project cost.

Since the cost of the project involving holding the walls up while the rest of the building was being renovated would be incapable of earning an economic return on its value, Ney cited Madison’s Code relating to demolitions in the Historic District (Sec. 42-86(d)). It states that, should the HPC deny demolition on a project proved incapable of earning an economic return, a demolition permit can be issued if Notification of Demolition is posted on the structure for a period of six months prior.

“We’re entitled to demolish the building,” said Ney.

HPC Member Flynn Clyburn asked if the applicant was able to provide a side-by-side cost analysis of the deconstruction/reconstruction project and the project that would involve keeping the existing walls standing during the renovation, and Ney stated that they did not have those figures at that time.

Prior to public comment, the general impression of the HPC members was that they did not have enough information about the deconstruction and reconstruction plans to make an informed ruling on the plan, since neither had a cost analysis nor a set of standards for the rebuilding process involved in the deconstruction/reconstruction plan.

More than 10 members of the public spoke on one side or the other about the proposed plan.

Mark McDonald, president and CEO of The Georgia Trust, spoke against the demolition of the building, stating that “this building can be rehabilitated,” later adding that “a replica building is not a building that any African-American was ever in,” referring to the building’s African-American heritage. Mamie Hillman spoke in favor of the deconstruction project, saying that a reconstruction of the Mapp-Gilmore building would preserve part of African-American history in Madison

“We have very few things in Madison representing the contributions of African-Americans, said Hillman. “Our history is going down the drain.”

Once the idea of using HABS-level documentation as a means of ensuring that the building would be documented clearly, setting a blueprint for the reconstruction process, the rest of the bricks fell into place quickly, and Russell accepted that she would have to come back before the HPC in the future to obtain COAs in the event that she should desire to make changes on the building different from the HABS documentation.

After the HPC’s unanimous approval of her application, Russell expressed relief that work on the project would soon begin – after the filing of the HABS documentation – and that she would be able to preserve elements of the building for generations of African-Americans in Madison.

Considering the wide-reaching implications of a deconstruction and reconstruction project involving a historic structure in Madison, Russell hopes that the process will attract attention from around the state.

“This project will prevent Georgia from losing any more of their historic structures,” said Russell.