Editor’s Note: Each week in the month of July, Crossett’s mayoral candidates will each answer a question about an issue that has been posed by one of the other candidates. By participating in the print forum, the candidates get a chance to discuss issues that they think should be a priority while giving the public a chance to understand how they will approach leading the city. The answers are presented as written by the candidates. Candidate Kevin Cosby submitted this week’s question.
Concerning the former City Hall, Police and Fire Department building on Main Street as a whole, how should it be remediated and to what use? Are there other city properties and structures you think need attention?
The last mayoral question was concerning the demolishing of abandoned homes and neglected properties, a costly expense for our city. My question this week is concerning the abandoned and neglected Crossett Municipal Building that was vacated and allowed to fall into an unusable state of disrepair by the current city administration.
Sitting at 307 Main St., the Art Deco style building was built in 1954 to consolidate the municipal services that were scattered across town.
The multi-function building originally housed the public library, fire station, municipal offices and court. The police department took over the library space after the old post office was remodeled for a library in 1968. The building served Crossett well for over half a century. To preserve and keep the building from being destroyed like so many demolished landmarks before it, in September of 2007, the Crossett Municipal Building along with the Crossett Municipal Auditorium were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Crossett is home to several properties on the National Register of Historic Places. Bethel Cemetery, Crossett Post Office, Crossett Experimental Forest Buildings, Crossett Methodist Church, Crossett Municipal Building and Crossett Municipal Auditorium are all listed. The only ones in disrepair are neglected, owned and managed by the city.
A better plan for their upkeep is essential as they are in need of serious repairs, more than just maintenance. As a historical building, repairs must be completed using materials that are as close to original as possible making it more costly or specialized. Repairs grow each day they’re delayed. The mold, water damage, and rot worsen. The labor costs increase and age appropriate materials become less available.
The Municipal Building was abandoned by our current administration when the National Guard gave its armory to the city and two new fire houses were built to house the Crossett Fire Department. It was decided to make the armory building into the Police Department. The jail was abandoned due to maintenance issues, unhealthy conditions from leaking roofs and moldy surfaces, excessive damages and general neglect. Crossett has no jail or ability to house inmates and pays Ashley County for housing prisoners. We have increased our expenses transporting prisoners and burdening Crossett police officers. It’s an issue this administration has failed to adequately address for years.
Its easy to see the neglected conditions of the Municipal Building, just pull up and look through the front doors. Wet floors and patches of sheetrock falling off the ceiling are only the surface. The mold covering the walls and surfaces fills the air with spores that shouldn’t be inhaled. To turn this building back into a usable area will require major work and expense but can be done.
There are many groups that help repair, maintain, and restore historical properties. As mayor I would seek help from state, federal, and private resources. Many grants are available, one is a HUD grant for Historical Preservation. Its focus is on helping local governments in towns with less than 50,000 people and less than 100 buildings in their business district. Called Main Street grants with maximum grant amounts up to $500,000, these could allow new life to occupy our Municipal Building again. It would make a nice art gallery or rent subsidized office spaces, maybe a rodeo museum to honor the history of Crossett Rodeo.
We must learn from our mistakes. I will seek solutions to problems and act swiftly to save time and money and not put it off. We have a responsibility to act appropriately and recognize opportunities. Prevention is always better than the cure. Working towards a better tomorrow, today.
Our Municipal Building is perfect for a multipurpose space. I have already started the process of bringing our attention back to this community goalpost, therefore preserving it, by gaining permission from City Hall to place a Tiny Free Library on its porch. A small step toward a larger endeavour but a step nonetheless.
Once the TFL is placed, we will add it to a national registry that will guide people to it, therefore to our historical Municipal Building.
The fun splash of color that this TFL will display will also catch the eye of passersby, therefore bringing attention to the building in that way.
After we have gained some attention, we have to clean up the inside so we can develop it. Just like the Municipal Auditorium, this clean up project will need fundraising efforts. Something I have shown this community I can do through the work I started at the Auditorium by forming a board and by gathering a volunteer staff to bring fundraising shows there. We displayed two successful events complete with an initial surface clean and design before COVID forced us to pause. Proof that I know how to get the ball rolling on preserving our past.
Once deemed safe, I believe the area that housed our Fire Department bays could be refurbished into a reception venue. I have seen old fire departments done this way, and they are unique, drawing people from afar to use them. Photo shoots, school formals, anniversary parties...the list is endless.
Elsewhere in the building I see a movie theater. But not necessarily the type for today’s blockbusters. Rather, a quaint theater fashioned after the one from the time Crossett was known as the “cultural Mecca of the South”. It would play Elvis movie marathons, 1950s horror movies or the originals of today’s horror remakes like “Nightmare on Elm Street”, westerns and costume-themed movie showings like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.
Why not today’s blockbusters? You can get those anywhere, making them not very special anymore. But can you get a dollar movie with popcorn and a coke and spend a wholesome afternoon with your family just anywhere? Implement this plan and Crossett offers something unique not only to this community, but to this region as well. Something that will draw us and those outside our city limits in.
Other historical sites we can preserve in tourism-building ways include the Yale Camp cabins and the Crossland Zoo. We can work with Weyerhauser to gain possession of the cabins, move them to the zoo and create a campground complete with canoes and paddle boards on Lucas Pond, a rock climbing wall and an archery range. I must give credit where credit is due: this idea came to me from Grant Writer Cherub Alford. I immediately recognized it as an idea that must be implemented in the overall plan to make Crossett enriching for citizens and attractive to visitors.
There is also the Crossett Camp’s dynamite bunker out near Burling Road. It needs to have a path cut to it and an historical marker registered nationally.
To prioritize any of our refurbishment efforts, I would lean toward project costs. Start with the tiny steps that take little to no funding like the Tiny Free Libraries. While we exercise active effort to produce immediate results, the grant writers can be busy scooping up the larger funds needs to perform the larger projects in most old buildings like mold removal. Tackle the projects that can show immediate results. That will lead to belief in the projects. This will garner community support and push us toward successfully raising funds.
Main Street and MLK Jr. Drive showcase three of our most treasured historical structures, the former Municipal Building, the Crossett City Auditorium, and the EC Crossett Youth Center. All of these are part of Crossett’s heritage, and tug on our heartstrings, but all are in need of restoration. While I think it is important to move Crossett forward, I don’t want us to leave our historical buildings behind.
Funds are scarce, but citizens have proven that we have an abundant supply of creativity and ingenuity when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The beautiful Main Street building that once housed our courthouse, police department, fire department and City Hall has become a site of environmental contamination due to the massive amount of asbestos and dangerous mold. It was reported that demolishing the building would cost around $1 million. Additionally, to address all issues and bring it up to code would be around $3 million. In spite of this reality, I have not given up on this majestic structure. One possibility is selling the building to someone who can restore it to its former glory. Just last month, we showed our municipal building to a group interested in its potential. In July of 2018, council was approached by a local businesswoman requesting permission to reach out to a non-profit group who specifically restored old buildings. Although that specific non-profit group was not interested it brings hope that another solution is out there.
Applying for grants is something that we are looking into for multiple city properties.
Both our municipal building and our nostalgic auditorium are strong contenders for Historic Preservation Restoration Grants, as both properties are listed on the National Historic Registry. Preservation grants are given to buildings in an effort to preserve Arkansas history. While our EC Youth Center does not currently hold this designation, a board member’s recent suggestion of pursuing that could not have come at a better time as we explore these grants. Although these grants are not usually large funds, it can be received in multiple years. Our very own Crossett Economic Development Foundation building on Main Street was rehabilitated via this grant and is another jewel of our town.
Due to the environmental hazards at our municipal building, Brownfield grants are available but have their limits on funding capping out at $500,000 for a cleanup grant and $800,000 for a multipurpose grant. These limitations are why I believe a series of layered grants would be our most lucrative approach to preserving these relics of Crossett history.
The possibilities of these properties are exciting! Once funding is secured, our municipal building could once again provide a dignified courtroom.
The height of the old firehouse bays might be perfect for a recreation center. City Hall could be returned to this building as well, allowing for meeting spaces and a larger City Council chamber to enable our citizens to better partner with their councilperson and local government providing an atmosphere our citizens will be proud of and comfortable visiting. This idea opens the possibility of selling the current city hall which could provide funds to address other issues.
Restoration, renovation and modernization of the Crossett Auditorium could allow for so many to proudly use this venue, including performing artists.
Our EC Youth Center has so much potential. If renovated it could host a plethora of events and programs for our leaders of tomorrow. The variation of educational activities, food programs, and extracurriculars are endless.
While these are some ideas for these properties, I am eager to hear your ideas as well. Everyone deserves a voice in these decisions, as these are your buildings too. Let’s work together to polish our town and make it shine so bright that more people will choose to call it home. I believe that by working together we can chip away at these projects and restore our treasured history while moving forward. Working together with the common goal of limiting the cost to our taxpayers while maximizing the utilization of grants will serve us well in our quest for the restoration of Crossett. Though the road will be long and the hurdles plentiful, I believe we can do this. Together, we can.
The question was asked about the Old Municipal Building on Main Street that used to house the police department and City Hall. How should it be remediated and to what use?
To start with, this Municipal Building is a beautiful building that is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been since 2007. The city vacated it in the 2015-2016 time frame.
The building did not start showing signs of wear all at once. This building slowly started deteriorating over the years, a little at a time.
In fact, even the yard and shrubbery were allowed to get over-grown which turned this into an eye-sore for all that traveled down main street. Very thankfully, volunteer efforts from citizens like Freddie and Luanne Guinn are what have it looking as good as it does now. There are environmental issues with this building that exist but could be abated and remedied. However, because of the approach we have taken for several years, it all adds up now into one big problem. An approximate quote for abatement and remodeling would be at a cost of $2,500,000. This would have been a total remodel of the approximately 18,000 sq. ft of area. We can’t change what has happened but should look at this as an opportunity to improve our preventative maintenance programs through-out the city. This program would not only encompass buildings but also parking lots, garbage trucks, etc. A good viable preventative maintenance program in every department will yield a good return on investment and is something we need to include in our expense programs. As your mayor, I would work with each department head to see that they had the necessary program in place to maintain our city equipment and city owned properties so that we don’t end up with more properties like this in the future.
With the situation we presently have, I would want to form a committee of knowledgeable citizens and professionals to make sure we pull in every resource we have available to us. I do think we should make a plan to salvage the Municipal Building. There are grants available from National Historic Preservation, EPA and Federal. We have an incredible grant writer at Economic Development, Cherub Alford, who is willing and capable of seeking grant funds if we reach out to her about the needs. I would make plans to do so and identify what is available. Based on the amount of money we are able to obtain, we would develop a time line for the renovation project. This would not happen overnight but would be prioritized as a needed project. The renovation would make it feasible to move the police department back in to this facility along with our city hall staff. The renovation would also include a very nice courtroom rather than the make-shift court room we are using now at the current Crossett City Police Department which is the old National Guard Armory building. This transfer could also create an opportunity for other businesses use of the National Guard Armory building and current City Hall with unlimited possibilities.
The second portion of the question asks about other city structures that need attention. If you have attended any of the city council meetings in the last few months, you know that I, as a City Council member, have made an issue out of the road-way behind Dr. Thompson’s office. It is in terrible shape and MUST be repaired. It has been planned for completion by the end of July. I am very hopeful that this is completed as planned and will be following up for assurance. As your Mayor, I will make sure that infrastructures like this parking lot will not be ignored and will receive attention accordingly.
Another city owned building is the Crossett Municipal Auditorium which was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. This has changed hands over the years but is now owned by the city. A committee was formed and fund raiser started in an effort to begin a restoration. There are many opportunities for fund raisers, grants and additional events to raise money for this auditorium. As your Mayor, I will continue to support and assist with the needs to restore this magnificent auditorium. This is a perfect place for dance recitals, concerts and other functions for our citizens.
In closing, none of these projects will be an overnight sensation. It will take time to go in and methodically move through our departments and areas of the city to improve efficiencies. Every department has things they would like to do different and all would embrace change. There are opportunities in several areas and as your Mayor, I am looking forward to moving “Our City” toward that path of growth! Please remember, “It’s not about ME, it’s about US!”
In 1986 there was a movie with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long called “The Money Pit”. The movie centered around Hanks and Long purchasing a home for $200,000 which was said to be worth $1 million. Great deal, they thought. The only problem was the house began to fall apart the moment they stepped inside, and continued to fall apart as the movie continued. Our old City Hall on Main Street reminds me of this movie as it is now vacant and rapidly falling apart at the seams. To repair or rebuild will remind us somewhat of “The Money Pit” as the end of the spending might never disappear.
Built in 1954 through a bond program by the city, the building once housed the Library, the Municipal Court, the Fire Department, the Mayor’s Office and other city services. The Police Department moved in during the 1960’s when the Library moved out. Today the building stands vacant except for some Fire and Rescue boats and trucks inside and three Ambulances outside. The roof is leaking and I’m sure mold and decay have overtaken parts of the structure.
Some would easily say, “the building has no further purpose for the city, so let’s just tear it down and do something else with the land.” Easy to say, not so easy to do. The problem with tearing down the building is that it was put on the National Registry of Historic Places back in 2007. I’m not sure who suggested the idea and authorized the process, but it blocks most chances of removing the building. Now, it can be taken down, but a rather lengthy appeal has to go before the National Registry, and they have to agree before any action by the city can be taken.
After checking with friends in the construction business, the estimate a cost between $250,000 and $500,000 to bring the building back to life. With its build date of 1954 it most likely has quite a bit if asbestos inside, which is rather expensive to remove. The building also has a flat roof over the north and south ends, and most flat roofs built during that era leaked. The question for the people of Crossett is, do you want the city to spend that much money to restore a building for which we have no current or future plan to use?
I am one who does not like to see old, historic buildings removed. I go back to the town where I went to grade school and it is now an open field. The school is gone and there is not even a plaque to remind anyone if its previous existence. The old City Hall needs to be remembered since it was one of the first buildings built and funded by the residents of Crossett rather than the old Crossett Company. It does have historic value in that regard, but then there is that enormous cost to restore the building.
My suggestion is for the City Council to form a group of twelve people, six for and six against the building’s restoration and give them at least six months to study the pros and cons of restoration. If that “jury” came back with a unanimous decision on whether to repair or remove the building, then we as a city would most likely accept their plan. But whatever is decided, we need a concrete plan on how to pay for either outcome, and we will need a plan for the future use of either the building if it’s restored or the land if it’s not rebuilt. You can do anything with money and a plan, can’t you? Right now, the city has neither!