Photographs by Kenneth Heard
Gina Jarrett, director of Main Street Paragould, has until Jan. 31 to find a buyer for the abandoned downtown City Light and Water building or the 1938 structure is set for demolition.
Originally published August 13, 2017 at 04:29a.m., updated August 14, 2017 at 04:30a.m.
PARAGOULD -- A downtown Paragould organization has until Jan. 31, 2018, to find a buyer for the 79-year-old City Light and Water building or see it demolished.
"We've lost a lot of historical buildings in Paragould over the years," said Gina Jarrett, director of Main Street Paragould Inc. "The thought of losing another is heartbreaking."
The city-owned utility plans to bulldoze the building if someone doesn't buy and restore it, said Paragould Light, Water and Cable manager Darrell Phillips. He gave Jarrett six months to locate a buyer. City workers will clean debris left inside the building within a week. Once the cost of the cleanup is determined, the city will set a price for the building, Jarrett said.
The two-story, 10,000-square-foot brick building is just west of Union Pacific railroad tracks along North Second Avenue. Four turbines were once housed inside, generating power for the Greene County city.
Now, the building sits empty. Most of the panes in its arched windows are broken, and doors are missing. A fire ravaged the building in 2013, blackening the brick walls and scorching beams across the roof.
Someone dumped a large pile of debris in an open area inside a main room, and a small tree grows out of a mound of dirt where the turbines sat. Clothing and trash litter some of the other rooms, indicative of transients living inside the building, Jarrett said.
The only reminders that it once served as a power plant are the log sheets bearing the utility company's name that are scattered on the floor.
The building, referred to by locals as the "power plant," was constructed in 1938 after voters approved a bond issue in 1933 to build it.
Workers installed the first electric generators in May 1938, and in January 1939 two of the four turbines went into service, powering the city's water pumping station and its street lights.
The power plant also served as a reminder for youngsters to go home at imposed curfew times, Jarrett said.
Each night -- at 10 or 11 on weekdays and midnight on Saturdays -- a city employee would go to the building and activate a loud steam whistle to indicate the time.
Although much of the equipment from the building is long gone, someone was able to save the whistle and still owns it, Jarrett said.
The city built a new facility in 1990, and in 2004 Paragould Light, Water and Cable sold the downtown building to Paragould businessman John Kennett.
"His vision was for a restaurant," Jarrett said. "Downtown might not have been quite ready for that then."
Kennett sold the property to another Paragould businessman who eventually sold it to yet another person. The city has since repurchased the property.
The building remained empty and began deteriorating.
"It's basically a shell now," Phillips said. "We don't even know how structurally sound it is."
The building is part of a section of Paragould's downtown district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The district is framed by Third Avenue, Kingshighway, 3½ Street and West Highland Street and reflects such architectural styles as 20th Century Commercial, Classical Revival and Minimal Traditional, the register notes.
Other historical downtown structures, like the Clyde Mack building, Holland Furniture store and the Graber building, all have burned.
"We've lost a lot," Jarrett said.
Preserving historical buildings is a "struggle," said Mark Christ, community outreach director with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program in Little Rock.
"Some properties define the area and are a piece of history," he said. "Once they're gone, they are gone.
"With every historic building that you lose, you lose a piece of the heart of the town. Each building has its story to tell."
Christ said private investors may be deterred by the cost of restoring an old building, but there are state and federal tax credits available for potential investors.
"There are ways to save some buildings," he said.
Jarrett is searching for investors for the City Light and Water building, touting its potential as a restaurant, hotel, brewery, museum or even bowling alley.
"We've already had some interest in this," she said. "It can be used for anything. It's how much you want to spend."
An environmental team from Little Rock is inspecting the facility to determine if asbestos or other toxic elements were used to build the structure and if they need to be removed, Jarrett said.
"We don't have a lot of pretty buildings left," she said. "There's not a lot of historic buildings downtown. This is one of them."
State Desk on 08/13/2017
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