Three 150-year-old buildings in Highland are being primed to be torn down and turned into parking lots.
Highland’s city council recently announced it would seek bids for removal of asbestos inside the buildings, moving the city closer to its plan to create additional parking near the its Downtown Square.
City Manager Mark Latham said the the city purchased the buildings at 717, 719 and 723 Main Street for $35,000.
Initially, their intent for purchasing the properties stemmed from neighbors, who complained about pieces of the deteriorating buildings falling onto their properties.
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“We had a complaint from the neighbors that lived next door that the shingles, the roof and everything else was falling onto his yard,” Latham said. “That kind of threw up a yellow flag regarding liability.”
Before the city purchased the buildings, they were owned for decades by the Weder family, who owns the Highland Supply Corp. The buildings were originally built in the 1870s by John J. Spindler Sr.
Latham said the city is currently estimating the entire parking lot project will cost $200,000 and add a “significant” amount of parking spaces to the downtown area.
Local business owners like Justin McLaughlin, who owns the Lory Theater, said additional parking lots are badly needed. He said on busy days at the theater, every parking spot nearby is filled, creating headaches for customers and other business owners.
“The thing that is most frustrating is knowing that the surrounding area businesses suffer from their own parking issues due to our customers,” McLaughlin said.
The parking, he said, will help ease tension between businesses fighting for parking lots and bring more customers to the Downtown Square.
“It’s going to benefit all of the area businesses within the block,” McLaughlin said. “You’ve got significant businesses in this area. It’s really going to have a tremendously positive affect.”
Not all Highland residents are excited about the razing of the buildings. Carrie Finley, who owns the Peacock Bakery in Highland, said she tried to purchase the building for years before it was sold to the city. She said she had offered nearly triple what the city paid for the buildings, which she planned to turn into store fronts and apartments. She said tearing down the buildings will be like tearing down history.
“People don’t come to small towns to see parking lots,” Finley said. “It destroys the historic structure in Highland.”
Finley said she still wants to buy the buildings, but Latham said the city, by law, cannot sell them due to the ordinance that allowed their purchase, which included the intent to raze the buildings and construct additional parking.
The inside of the buildings are dilapidated as well, Latham added. He said getting the buildings to any type of usable state would take a huge amount of money.
“They’re too far gone to be fixed up,” Latham said. “The staircases are totally gone and the roof leaking for who knows how many years has really destroyed the facility as well.”
He added that many have tried to buy the buildings over the years, but the original owner had no intent on selling the buildings and, when asked by the city, had no intent of rehabbing the buildings either.
Finley said the entire process has been “ugly,” but she said she still is fighting to try to save the buildings. She said she believes if the buildings were rehabbed they could generate thousands in building permits, sales and property taxes.
“Somebody’s gotta fight the fight,” Finley said.