City: Historic hotel property near collapse

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 06:02 PM

City officials say they’re trying to work with the owners of an historic Washington Street property that they fear could collapse at any time.
The area surrounding the former Kilby Hotel remains barricaded after an engineer determined the three-story building was structurally unsafe. The roof of the 100-year-old building has collapsed into the third floor, which has fallen into the second floor. Officials said that the only way to save the building will be to stabilize its exterior walls — and soon.
Otherwise, they said, it will have to be demolished.
“We’re real concerned there could be some injury or death out there — somebody wandering along when it comes down, if it comes down. We understand the historical significance of it, but it’s about to collapse,” said City Manager Strib Boynton.
A hearing between city building inspectors and the property owners is planned as the next step to determine what to do about the building. Officials said the owners have told them that they want to save the property and have had a structural engineer examine it. They said they’re awaiting the engineer’s report.
“It would be a significant undertaking, but you could go in there and shore up the walls, clean out the interior, and you would end up with the four walls standing and somebody would have something to renovate back,” said Ed Brown, inspection administrator for the city. “Otherwise, it could be a heavy windstorm, it could be a rumbling truck or train going by that could be enough to make it come down.”
Burtie McElrath and her daughter, Myra Williams, are the fourth- and fifth-generation owners of the property, which opened in 1913 and served as an entertainment hub during the days of racial segregation in the early and middle part of the 20th century. The Kilby was among the most prominent establishments in what was then the heart of the city’s black business community. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s.
The hotel, and the ground-floor shops that operated in it, closed a number of years ago, and the building since has fallen into disrepair. Restoration of the building has long been a goal of the ongoing revitalization efforts in the Washington Street area.
Williams said she and her mother are moving forward with their plans to renovate the property for business and residential use. The family also owns an adjoining two-story building that is structurally sound.
The sidewalk in front of both buildings, as well as First Baptist Church on the other side of Hobson Street from the Kilby property, has been closed to pedestrians. In addition, city officials said they have closed Hobson Street between the two properties. They said there are no occupied residences or commercial buildings surrounding the Kilby property that could be at risk.
The city also has declared the sanctuary of First Baptist Church unsafe and closed it because of structural deficiencies in the walls, Brown said. Church representatives approached the city last year about the sanctuary, and are working on a plan to demolish it in phases, according to Senior Pastor Michael Robinson.
The plan is to continue using the rear portion of the building for worship services and build a new sanctuary in place of the current one, he said.