Coke Renovation Work Underway

This appeared in The Neshoba Democrat - June 11, 2014

Renovation of the historic Coca-Cola building on Center Avenue is underway to transform the building into a warehouse associated with the proposed Marty Stuart Center.

The Coca-Cola sign painted on the east side of the building that is undergoing a $320,000 renovation will be restored, officials have said.

Plans call for only minor changes to the front of the entrance of the building, while the windows on the north side will be closed so that natural lighting would not affect the artifacts eventually housed inside.

Tyler Construction Group of Philadelphia was awarded the project with a base bid of $320,000. A second bid of $428,300 was submitted by Perry Construction Company of Philadelphia.

Community Development Partnership President David Vowell said the renovation would first focus on the masonry, roof and windows. "They'll upgrade the entire exterior but nothing too massive," he said. "It will look basically the same."

E. Bowden "Skip" Wyatt, of Foil Wyatt Architects & Planners PLLC, was chosen in January to design the warehouse. Wyatt said workers would redo the brick work and clean, paint and patch the exterior. "We'll put it [the building] back like it was and add stucco," he said.

Much of the structure will remain the same but Wyatt said the windows on the north side would be closed in due to daylight affecting the artifacts. The front of the building will also remain mostly intact with only minor changes to the front entrance, he said. The building was constructed in 1926, according to a history of the Coca-Cola company published in The Neshoba Democrat in 1985.

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.

O.B Fox, the man who first bottled Coca-Cola in Neshoba County in 1909, published the Democrat from 1906 to 1911. Fox's grandson, Kenneth Lewis, owned the bottling company when it was sold.

The two-story brick Coca-Cola building was built on the site of the Cenie Powell photo studio. The Neshoba Democrat for many years was located next door in what is now the Branning law office. After the Coke plant closed, the building housed a furniture store before the county purchased the building in 2003 to use for storage.

An inter-local agreement that would have allowed the city to demolish the historic building to allow for a public parking lot was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2009. In exchange, the county would have given the city one-half interest in the property.

Plans for the parking lot, however, were put on hold in 2010 after an outside professional assessment team, as part of a charrette, called the building an industrial landmark and suggested that it shouldn't be demolished to make way for a parking lot.

"The presumably imminent demolition of the historic Coca-Cola building is especially troubling as a major industrial landmark building in the community," the final charrette report 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.

"Public officials should ask themselves: 'Does the permanent loss of a landmark justify 17 parking spaces that might not be in the correct place to alleviate downtown parking,'" the report said.

The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in 2013 authorizing the transfer of the Coca-Cola building to the Industrial Development Authority of Neshoba County to make ware for the warehouse. Supervisors also gave IDA authority to administer $1 million in state bond monies awarded by the legislature in conjunction with the proposed center.

Once the Coca-Cola renovation is complete, the remaining monies could be used to help purchase a suitable building to house the actual center.

Once the building is complete, he said, a new sign will be placed at the entrance proclaiming the building as the warehouse for the Marty Stuart Center.

Wyatt said his company has only been contracted for the exterior of the building at present. Currently, they are working on the idea that the interior would be just a large open room on the first and second floors. "But this might change," he said. Wyatt added that he has seen photos of some of the artifacts and some might need to be segregated from the rest.

Vowell said work on the exterior should be complete by August 1 of this year. "We're still in discussion about developing the museum and gathering a committee for the project," he said. "We feel that if we get the first project started then others will fall into place."

The center is expected to house Marty Stuart's vast collection of country music memorabilia, including some belonging to such stars as Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Sr. Vowell said items from Stuart's collection would be changed periodically from the warehouse to the museum in order to attract visitors on a continual basis.

While officials have looked at several buildings to house the proposed center, a final decision has not been made.

The Marty Stuart 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.

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."

By Steven Thomas

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