Already working with prospective tenant

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The City of Andalusia acquired another historic downtown building last week, when city officials closed on the purchase of the First National Bank building, also known as the Timmerman building.

The city council ratified the purchase with the adoption of Resolution 2017-01 Tuesday night.

Mayor Earl Johnson said the city acquired the building for $260,00, plus $1,500 in closing costs. The Estep Foundation contributed $100,000 toward the purchase.

A year ago, the city began abatement proceedings against the building’s owners, and served notices to Pacific Equity, LLC in Santa Monica, Calif.; the Historical Preservation Authority of the City of Andalusia; to FNB Building, LLC, and to the estate of William Kiepura. Getting the legalities of ownership untangled was a long process, the mayor said.

Director of Planning Andy Wiggins said last February that the windows on all floors need to be replaced to prevent further falling objects and to secure the building from weather damage. In addition, he said, there are problems with mortar joints turning loose, and bricks falling from the parapet wall. There has been a construction safety fence there since that time, and Wiggins said last week that some repairs have been made to the building.

In March, the majority owner of the building, Tom Forbath traveled from California to meet with council members, and assured them it was his intent to get the building repaired and to begin marketing it.

But Johnson said Forbath soon became interested in selling the building to the city.

“When we started this abatement process, it became obvious the owner would have to spend some money, and he became interested in selling it to us.”

The mayor said there is a prospective tenant interested in the first floor, and she has visited several times.

“She talked to John (Thompson) as late as today, and her interest is even more.”

The abatement issues are now the city’s problems, and Johnson said city employees will get to work right away addressing safety issues. Estimated costs are $50,000 to $60,000.

“We can get most of it accomplished with our people,” he said. “We’ll have to have someone specially trained to do the stone work.”

Getting the building functional will complement the project already under way in downtown Andalusia, he said.

“I think you’ll see a going business in that building very soon,” he said. “That, coupled with Big Mike’s, CJ’s restaurant about to open, the movie theater, and Walker’s renovations – what a turnaround for our square in just a year. That will lead to other stuff.”

Johnson said he thinks all of that will lead to renovations of the upper floors of the bank building.

Johnson said he started working on the project in 2008.

“Here was this building that was sitting there empty, with nothing happening,” he said. “It’s an iconic building to Andalusia. I can’t imagine downtown Andalusia without that building.”

At the time it was built in the 1930s, he said, it was one of the tallest buildings in South Alabama.

“The gentleman who built the building was from Montgomery. His original plan was to buy that lot, and the lot next door, and build a three-story building. The fella went up on the price of the lot next door, and he told him to take a hike and built a six-story building,” Johnson said.

The Star-News asked the mayor how the purchase was made without a prior vote of the council. City Clerk John Thompson said the state’s Open Meetings Law does not prohibit him from discussing projects with council members. Thompson said no meetings were held, and no votes were taken, but the council generally seemed to support the idea.

“The council supported it enthusiastically, from the standpoint of downtown redevelopment,” Thompson said. Johnson said, “They did not vote or say you are authorized to go and do this. We went out and closed the transaction with confidence they would approve it.”

The state’s Open Meetings Law allows members of a governmental body to discuss the purchase of property in closed, or “executive” session. However, the body must meet in open session and agree to go into closed session, and it must disclose any material terms of a contract in the public portion of a meeting prior to the execution of a contract.