Rest of historic building 'beyond hope'

DULUTH -- City officials weren't able to salvage the second half of a historic building, after a demolition project last week where the first half was razed.

The 102-year-old structure, which has morphed over the decades from storefronts to a church to a part of a community theater, will have to come down after officials found the structure to be unsound.

"We had a building that was beyond hope," said Chris McGahee, the city's economic development manager. "It broke our hearts."

Last week, about 55 percent of the building was razed to make room for a realignment to Ga. Highway 120. McGahee said the city had every intention of restoring the remainder of the building, but when bricks were removed, it revealed sagging walls and cracks underneath.

"It is a building that has been neglected for many years," he said, adding that the city could not find a feasible solution.

"It's just terrible," said Anna Huthmaker, whose family owns a violin shop across Main Street from the building. "I suspect that if the economy were in a better place more money could be put into it."

McGahee said the shows at the Red Clay Theatre, which is housed in an adjacent building built in the '90s, will go on without interruption. Temporary restrooms will be constructed, and the city's Downtown Development Association will help determine the redevelopment of the site.

While no decision has been made, McGahee said a pedestrian plaza with a marquee box office and restrooms may be considered.

Huthmaker said she has enjoyed the open view to Main Street since the first half of the building was razed, and she hopes that will continue.

"I'd have to say an arts complex of some kind" would be the best replacement, she said, nodding to the city's weekly art walks and two local theaters. "I'd love to see something play into that."