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City approves renovation, purchase of opera house

The Andalusia City Council on Tuesday approved a development agreement for one of the historic downtown buildings acquired earlier this year.

Andy Gibson, owner of Draftstone Properties, plans to renovate the McArtan Building, also known as the Opera House, located at 201 South Three Notch Street. His plan calls for three commercial spaces downstairs and eight apartments upstairs.

The building will become part of the Capital Improvement Cooperative District of the City of Andalusia, which will finance approximately half of the estimated $550,000 in planned renovations.

“It was only on March 10 of this year that we formally announced the city’s acquisition of downtown properties, and revealed the architect’s vision of what those properties could become,” Mayor Earl Johnson said. “On the following Friday, March 13, we had the first large-scale announcement of closings related to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“I am very pleased to report that the pandemic shut down many things, but that we have continued to work on plans for our downtown, and this project is moving forward,” he said.

Gibson, who also works in the oil industry, was returning to his post in the Middle East on Tuesday and could not attend the meeting. Earlier in the day, he said he already has two strong prospects for the three commercial spaces he will put in the building.

“The apartments are going to be different than anything we currently have in Andalusia,” he said. “We’re putting extra time and money in them and are working to preserve some of the architectural features.”

Gibson said he believes the apartments will have appeal to millennials, who want to live near entertainment venues and are less interested in larger homes. He expects to have them ready for occupancy by Spring of 2021.

The development agreement states that Draftstone Properties will begin repaying the Development District once the building reaches 80 percent occupancy or 12 months after occupancy, whichever comes first.

The agreement has perpetual maintenance and appearance restrictions that requires the premises to be maintained physically and in appearance as set out in the architectural plans for the premises.

As part of the agreement, the City of Andalusia and its Development District have the first right of refusal if Gibson decides to sell the property to a third party.

In a separate action, the council agreed to purchase two parcels on Pear Street to develop as downtown parking. It is expected that Gibson will participate in that development and some of the parking will be reserved for tenants of the McArtan Building. The parcels are owned by Wyley D. Ward, who is selling them to the city for $40,000.

Gibson and Draftstone Properties also own Southern Terrace Apartments on Church Street, which are being renovated. He also owns Snow Biz on River Falls Street.

The second floor of the McArtan Building, or Opera House, will have three studio apartments, three two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments.