One of downtown Fayetteville’s most recognized buildings could soon have a tenant after three years of vacancy.
Members of the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotions Commission agreed to seek a lease-to-own agreement with the owner of the old post office building, at 1 W. Center St. in the middle of the downtown Square.
By leasing the building, A&P director Marilyn Heifner said the commission can solve two problems Fayetteville currently faces while reserving space for a possible new downtown attraction.
“Because of the closing of the Cosmopolitan (hotel), we are hard-strapped to find meeting space at some critical periods during the next 10 months,” said Heifner.
The hotel, which is currently under renovation, frequently hosts conventions and meetings in downtown Fayetteville which bring in tax dollars, some that help fund the commission. Finding a temporary place to host those meetings is something Heifner’s team at the Visitors Bureau has been struggling with lately.
Another issue that popped up lately is that the Fayetteville Underground artists are moving from their current location on the square in the basement of East Square Plaza.
“I know that they don’t have any place to go at this time,” said Heifner.
Officials with the non-profit collective, which houses studio space and a rotating art gallery, announced in October that its lease had not been renewed by the owners of East Square Plaza.
The gallery has arguably become an integral piece of a revitalized downtown square and is a founding organization of the hugely successful First Thursday monthly art walk event.
The commission last month asked Heifner to explore available downtown properties that it could acquire and then lease to the artists in an effort to keep the gallery space near the square.
“I think it’s vital to the city of Fayetteville, especially on Thursday nights,” said commissioner Bob Davis. “It’s kind of a driving force to get people down there and if it’s not there, I think First Thursday would fall off some.”
A perfect fit
After inquiring about the old post office building, Heifner said she realized she’d found a perfect solution.
“We looked around downtown and right there in the middle of the square was something that posed a good opportunity for us,” she said.
The building, which is currently owned by Ron Bumpass, was appraised in 2006 at $2,130,000. Bumpass, however, offered a one-year, $60,000 lease to the A&P with the option to purchase the property for another $1 million after 12 months.
The commissioners unanimously agreed to accept the offer during Monday afternoon’s regular meeting.
Heifner said the commission could lease the 5,700-square-foot basement level to the Underground artists and rent the main floor, also about 5,700 square feet, as a meeting space while the Cosmopolitan Hotel is being renovated.
Once hotel renovations are complete, the commission discussed using the main level for a variety of possible uses such as wedding rental space or even a Fayetteville history museum.
Heifner said the commission would use $24,000 in unallocated special event funds and a portion of unused Town Center equipment funds to cover the 12-month lease.
Option to buy
By leasing the building, commissioners said they could at least help get Fayetteville past the meeting space crunch and provide a place for the artists. Plus, they’d have enough time to evaluate a long-term option.
“After being in there a year, we’ll have the opportunity to see if there are any major repairs or any structural issues that come up,” said commission chair Maudie Schmitt.
The 100-year-old building first opened in 1911 as a federal post office. It remained a postal facility until the 1970s and later was acquired by Bumpass who co-operated the 100-seat Old Post Office and Gathering Place restaurant and club which lasted about a dozen years. The space later housed a series of restaurants before coming to a standstill in January 2009 when Urban Table closed.
If the group decides to purchase the building, Heifner said she wasn’t sure exactly how it would be funded, but hinted at the possible use of unallocated HMR tax funds or dipping into a $2 million reserves account.
Heifner said Bumpass offered to allow the commission to pay the price in four installments.
A new underground home?
Fayetteville Underground co-artistic director Megan Chapman confirmed that the group, set to be renamed the Fayetteville Art Alliance in January, had not yet found a new home, but that they were considering several temporary solutions.
“We’ve got to be out of East Square Plaza in about two weeks,” she said.
Chapman said she’d not yet heard from Heifner about the possibility of leasing the old post office building, but was excited to hear of the planned offer.
“If the price is right, we’d definitely be interested,” said Chapman.
Heifner said if all goes according to plan, the commission could be ready to lease the building, in some capacity, by the end of January 2012.