Preservation NC eyes Thomasville

Jul. 23, 2014 @ 11:18 AM

Officials in Thomasville and Davidson County continue to discuss the issue of how to address the problem of vacant industrial properties in the city.

Residents lament the appearance of what many describe as “eyesores,” buildings that represent the Chair City's past, rather than its future. At least one institution has the ear of the Thomasville City Council, which entertained the ideas of Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, about rebuilding projects throughout the state at last month’s regular meeting.

“The greenest structure is the one that's already built,” Howard said. “There has been study after study that shows reuse of a building is always the more environmentally sustainable option than new construction.”

Howard discussed a renovation project that is currently in progress at the site of the former Loray Mill in Gastonia. A six-story textile mill, the Loray Mill will soon be utilized as an apartment complex.

Prominently featured in Howard's presentation, North Carolina cotton mills are recognized as the exceptional successes deriving from the programs. Federal and state tax credits have been used to transform old mill villages into exciting new communities.

Other instances can be found in Durham County, where an iconic smokestack and a water tower in the American Tobacco Company historic district now mark the site of concerts and other events held in the courtyard. Previously, the structures were unattractive landmarks of the Triangle's checkered history.

David Yemm, chairman of the Thomasville Historic Preservation Commission, believes similar projects would be feasible in Thomasville. He hopes the work of other communities will lead to local renovations. Besides simply turning an eyesore into something more aesthetically pleasant, preservation of historic buildings could also be a boon in the way of economic growth.

“When you rehab an old building, it costs less per square foot than to build new,” Yemm said. “The majority of the money spent is in labor cost and materials. The labor cost translates into money going back in the economy. When you're paying more in labor, people go out to eat, they'll buy stuff. That results in a bump in the local economy.”

According to the Department of Commerce, $700 million was spent statewide through tax credit programs for the renovation and reuse of historic buildings from 2007 to 2012, despite the steep economic recession which occurred during that time.

Structures in Thomasville, including those left behind by Thomasville Furniture Industries, are targets of the preservation commission.

The Hoover House is one Chair City structure with which Preservation NC is already working. The five-bedroom home at 121 Salem St. necessitates a complete renovation, Howard said. It is located in the Salem Street National Register District, and anyone who buys the home could receive a 30 percent state tax credit for reconstruction purposes.

Yemm would like to see the city council use the agency for other properties.

“Right now, everybody has the attitude that our factories, our buildings, are too far gone,” he said. “We can do it in Thomasville, we just have to have the vision for it.”

Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3578, or at