The Whitesburg City Council will decide later this month whether to allow the Letcher County Conservation District to demolish the old KYVA Motor Company building.
The conservation district bought the 83-year-old building in September 2006 for $85,000. Its board of directors later decided it would be more feasible to knock down the downtown structure and build a smaller, simpler one.
Whitesburg Mayor James W. Craft declared a moratorium on the demolition in May 2007, citing the building’s listing on National Register of the Historic Places as part of the Whitesburg Historic District listing.
What to do with the building was the subject of a public forum on March 23, but the conservation district board of directors, members of the city council and a handful of citizens in favor of keeping the historic building could not agree on what’s best for the city.
The conservation district wants to replace the 4,000 square-foot structure with a 2,088 square-foot building. Ron Brunty, chairman of the conservation district’s board of directors, said the new building including demolition can be completed for $281,000. He said it would cost about $400,000 to repair the KYVA building.
“It is a lot more expensive than we thought,” said Brunty. “To just put a new roof on they are saying $300,000.”
Joel Beverly, who operates an environmental engineering company and other business interests in downtown Whitesburg, wants the building to remain standing because it is one of the oldest and most historic buildings in town.
“It would be a big loss for downtown,” said Beverly, who also owns and operates Summit City. Beverly is from Vicco and his wife, Amelia Kirby, is from Wise County, Virginia. Kirby said she and Beverly decided to live in Whitesburg because of the “incredibly, beautiful downtown.”
Beverly said he wrote a letter to the conservation district board of directors eight months ago offering to buy the building. He since has bought the old Hoover’s Department Store buildings downtown and is in the process of restoring them. Beverly said he doesn’t know if he would buy the KYVA building now if it was offer ed to him.
“If I had known more buildings were going to be torn down and replaced with cookie cutter buildings, I wouldn’t have bought buildings to restore and revitalize,” said Beverly.
Beverly said a rendering by Kenar Architectural of Frankfort looked like a generic, modern design.
“That building isn’t unique,” said Beverly. “It doesn’t excite me.”
The KYVA building is located next to the new Letcher County Health Department. A new county recreation center is expected be constructed across the North Fork of the Kentucky River. Brunty said the new design would tie in with the other construction projects.
“There can be a mix of new and old,” said Sam Adams, a Jeremiah resident who was instrumental in getting the Whitesburg’s old buildings placed on the National Register of Historic Places. “I just want to caution you that if the new becomes too prevalent it (the old) will be lost.”
Adams said there are 83 buildings in the Whitesburg Historic District. If the number of historic buildings in Whitesburg drops below a certain percentage then tax credits that can be used to revitalize the buildings would no longer be available to property owners.
Beverly said if the conservation district renovates the KYVA building it can get 20 percent of its money back in credits. He said if the conservation spent $400,000 to remodel the building, it would get $80,000 back. Beverly said that with the tax credits, renovating the building would cost only $320,000 compared with $280,000 to build a new one. He said conservation board would be better served to spending the extra $40,000 to save a valuable building and get more space.
“You’re getting double the space for the same price really,” said Beverly.
Beverly said he is not sure that every stone has been turned over to find more funding to restore the building.
“We’ve looked, folks, honestly,” Brunty said. “It’s not like we’ve not tried and it’s not like we’ve not tried to remodel the building either. The best avenue is to build a new building with the idea of making it a ‘key pin’ of something nice that we can be proud of.”
Brunty said that before the public forum not one person told him they were opposed to a new building. He said most people wanted to know when the new building would be completed.
“I don’t think the majority of the people in Whitesburg would have a problem with it and that is me going out on a limb,” said Brunty.
Billy K. Banks, a member of the conservation district board of directors, said the KYVA building isn’t worth anything.
“It will fall down in 20 years anyway if nothing is done to it,” said Banks.
Council member John Williams asked Brunty if instead of 2,000 square feet, if the building could be 3,000 square feet.
“They are telling me that is all we can spend,” said Brunty.
Dr. William M. Collins, whose office is located nearby in a newer building once occupied by KYVA, said he doesn’t see how the new building could be completed for $280,000.
“I have moved from negative to neutral on this issue,” said Mayor Craft.
Craft said if the council gives the okay, he would like for the conservation district to include the old brick in the new design.
“I personally like the architecture of it,” said Craft. “I think it is very pretty.”
Beverly said it makes sense to preserve historic buildings for the future of downtown Whitesburg.
“If Whitesburg is ever going to be anything it’s based upon its historic downtown and the revitalization of it,” said Beverly.
Brunty said the conservation district has outgrown its space at 30-B Childers Road and would like a place of its own to one day be self sufficient. Brunty said the conservation district needs a home and wants it to be located in downtown Whitesburg.
The conservation district is now awaiting the city council’s April 14 meeting to learn whether it can continue with plans to build its new building on Madison Avenue.
“Even if they say no we have to find a solution to our problem,” said Brunty.