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Historic Foundation, city mull their options on old First Baptist building

NATCHEZ &045; The board of Historic Natchez Foundation decided in a Tuesday night board meeting it’s willing to take ownership of the old First Baptist Church building on Main Street.

That’s if owner Durrell Armstrong, now of Wichita, Kan., can put up at least some money to help repair the roof, the center of which fell in a few days ago, said Ron Miller, the foundation’s executive director.

However, when Armstrong was contacted by Ron’s wife Mimi, the foundation’s director of preservation and education, about putting up some money toward the effort, &uot;he said he’d think about it,&uot; Ron Miller said.

Ron Miller said a New Orleans structural engineer brought in by the foundation looked at the building a few months ago and said it still had structural integrity, although roof leaks would undermine that integrity over time and needed to be fixed.

Ron Miller estimated the cost of repairing the roof and broken windows at $300,000. But with that weatherproofing done, the building could be &uot;mothballed&uot; until a buyer could be found.

He believes the building, properly repaired and furnished, could be used as anything from a performing arts center &045; something Alcorn State University officials have said they would like to locate in the heart of Natchez &045; to apartments to a restaurant and bar.

There’s another option, however.

Now that the roof has caved in, the city’s building inspector is prepared to ask that it be demolished.

But even if the Historic Preservation Commission gives its OK, Building Inspector Paul Dawes doesn’t know where he will get the money to do the job.

Miller’s wife Mimi, the foundation’s director of preservation and education, and Dawes been in contact with Armstrong by phone in an effort to get the building’s roof repaired so that water would not undermine the structure of the building, but to no avail.

Now that he’s been made aware of the roof’s center caving in, Dawes said he is prepared to go before the Historic Preservation Commission to ask its permission for the building to be torn down.

Once the owner is notified by mail as required by law and the Board of Alderman gives its approval, the city can demolish the building. The cost of the demolition can then be charged as a lien against the property owner’s taxes.

But Dawes said there’s not enough money in his budget to do the job, since the Inspection Department only gets $15,000 a year for all its demolition work.

&uot;That’s enough to take care of (demolishing) two old rental houses, but this (church) building has asbestos in it, and it would take $20,000 just to remove that,&uot; Dawes said.

&uot;In all, you’re probably bumping up against $100,000 to demolish the whole building.&uot;