LUMBERTON — City officials say a fresh approach is needed to put an old building on North Water Street back to work.
They are trying to write a new chapter for the abandoned water plant, which was built in 1952, occupies prime real estate in the downtown area, and has become an eyesore.
“A re-use (is possible), like the old city hall worked through Preservation North Carolina,” said Wayne Horne, city manager.
The city is employing Retail Strategies to market the building.
The old plant was built during Robeson County’s textile boom. It was shut down and shuttered when Lumberton outgrew the plant’s capacity and the water treatment facility off Lowery Street went into operation.
Now the water facility near Eighth Street is an empty shell waiting for a new purpose.
Connie Russ, Downtown Development coordinator for the city of Lumberton, is working with Rediscover Downtown Lumberton to develop plans for the old water plant.
“We think it would be ideal for us to market the building as a microbrewery, maybe a restaurant, to serve food,” she said. “The Riverwalk as planned will go right behind this building. We need something usable for that space.”
The facility is envisioned as a major anchor point for cafes and entertainment venues, according to the RDL master plan. Reviews of the market and the site will be conducted, and then proposals that meet the city’s needs will be requested from developers. A developer would then be chosen, and an agreement would be made for the purchase and redevelopment of the plant.
“We need things for people to do in order for them to live here,” Russ said.
A variety of ideas for repurposing the water plant have been proposed over the years. One was to use it as an art gallery, but in the end that idea was deemed unfeasible.
“One possibility is to turn it over to N.C. Preservation to market it for some purpose, just as they sold the old fire station,” Russ said. “We would like to see something done by someone with wider stretching arms than us.”
“We think they’re trying for a brewery. It’s an ongoing process, looking towards the future,” Horne said. “It’s got about 16,000 square feet, and it will cost some money to renovate.”
The brewery idea has generated some interest, Russ said.
“It could be done as a lease,” Horne said. “It’s going to take some time. We’re getting a feel for the interest, and hope to see traffic shortly. The council will have to approve any decisions.”
The effort to find a new use for the water plant is in the early stages, said Holt Moore, Lumberton city attorney.
“We’re trying to get it occupied,” he said. “We’ve had some interest in the property.”
If the city does work with Preservation N.C., and all criteria are met, then the plant could be sold to them, Moore said.
“They would get option on the property, and then they sell it to a new buyer. It’s usually an amount that reflects the cost of monitoring the project and rehabilitation according to costs. We want to see it through to its proper finish,” Moore said. “We also want to confirm that the work, done correctly, maintains the historic features.”
Benefits are available to having the property owned by a private group or person, he said. Tax generation, more jobs, and making sure that the work goes with historic standards.
“The long-term benefits would make it worthwhile to have the initial sacrifice,” Moore said. “Without the sale, there are no property taxes being collected.”
Reach David Bradley at 910 416-5182 or [email protected]