Coke Building May Be Renovated

This appeared in The Neshoba Democrat - October 9, 2013

The circa 1926 historic Coca-Cola building, at the corner of Center Avenue and Myrtle Street, could soon be renovated for use as a warehouse for a proposed Marty Stuart Center in Philadelphia.

Community Development Partnership President David Vowell asked supervisors on Monday to transfer ownership of the county-owned building to the Industrial Development Authority, calling the proposed Marty Stuart Center an economic development project.

Having the warehouse for part of Stuart's Country Music collection is needed for the project to move forward, Vowell said.

IDA passed a resolution earlier seeking to administer/oversee the renovation of the Coca-Cola building for use as a functional warehouse for the Stuart Center, Vowell said.

The building most recently housed a furniture store and is currently being used as storage space for the county.

The renovation would be funded through $1 million in state bond monies awarded for the proposed Marty Stuart Center earlier this year, Vowell said. The remaining monies could be used to help purchase a suitable building to house the actual center, he said.

"The initial funds will be used to restore the exterior of the [Coke] building, provide adequate heating, cooling and ventilation, repair the roof and make the facility a functional warehouse," Vowell said.

"It is hoped that once this building is renovated and some of the Marty Stuart collection is housed in Philadelphia that this location will be very helpful in raising funds from the private sector to support the Marty Stuart museum effort," Vowell said.

IDA plans to appoint an advisory committee in the near future made up of people interested in seeing the Stuart Center come to fruition.

The proposed center stems from the Mississippi Country Music Commission which called Stuart's collection "a living history of Country Music" which would be "the heart of a center" in Philadelphia.

Plans call for the center to be in the city's "entertainment district," which encompasses an area extending from Eastgate Plaza on east Main Street to near Wal-Mart on west Beacon Street.

Stuart, a Neshoba County native, said the center would be a combination of a museum, theater and classroom. While the center would house the collection, the theater would be for small performances. The classroom was described as a place for "oral histories."

Vowell said items from Stuart's Country Music collection would be changed out throughout the year from the warehouse to the museum in order to attract visitors on a continual basis.

County Administrator Benjie Coats told supervisors that the proposal would require the board to pass a resolution transferring the old Cola-Cola building to IDA.

He recommended that the board take the matter under advisement so its attorney could draft the legal documents should supervisors wish to transfer ownership.

If the Stuart Center does not become a reality, ownership of the building would revert back to the county as part of the agreement, Coats said.

The board set a special meeting for Monday to make a final decision.

Coats voiced support for saving a historic building downtown.

"It's an opportunity and I think you've got to look at opportunities," Coats said. "Secondly, not every community has a Marty Stuart. The BB King Museum led to a nice facility and, hopefully, this might as well. There are a lot of people who would like to see it downtown and for us to have another destination to help businesses."

The Coca-Cola bottling operation and The Neshoba Democrat shared the building from the early 1930s at the height of the Great Depression to the late 1950s, a span that covered the editorships of Robin Weaver and Duke Thornton.

The Coke plant eventually occupied the entire building and closed in 1985 when the bottling operation was sold.

After the Coke plant closed, the building housed a furniture store before the county purchased it in 2003.

Yates Engineering Corp. told supervisors in late 2008 that it would be cost prohibitive to remodel the building, citing such deficiencies as bowed wood columns/beams; diagonal cracking in the southeast exterior wall; roof leaks; and inadequate (or no) floor/roof connections to exterior walls.

Under a 2012 inter-local agreement, the city agreed to fund the demolition of the building to make way for a new public parking lot on the site. In exchange, the county would give the city one-half interest in the property.

Those plans, however, remained on hold after bids for the demolition came in higher than anticipated.

Findings from a 2010 planning session said demolishing the historic Coke building to make way for a parking lot was not the best downtown economic development strategy.

A professional assessment team from the planning session called the old Coca-Cola building an industrial landmark and suggested it shouldn't be demolished.

"The presumably imminent demolition of the historic Coca-Cola building is especially troubling as a major industrial landmark building in the community," findings from the planning session said.

"Although there is recognition that additional parking needs to be established in the downtown, demolition of a building should be the last resort taken by the public entities."

By Debbie Burt Myers

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