train depot

The former freight depot located next to City Park is used mostly for storage these days, but city officials would like to see it renovated into an event venue.

B’shear alcohol ordinance may stand in the way of renovation as event venue

City officials are one step closer to giving the nod for interior renovation work to begin at Blackshear’s historic train depot, but there’s still one hurdle to navigate  — revision of the city’s alcohol ordinance.

The city council will need to consider a revision to its alcohol ordinance to potentially allow for alcoholic beverages to be served at events in the depot, if the former freight depot is renovated as an event venue for weddings, family reunions and other gatherings.

“If there’s any issues about the lack of alcohol service in this building, if it wouldn’t get passed, you can forget doing this,” says Angela Manders, Chamber of Commerce executive director. “That’s got to pass before we ever start on (the renovation).”

Larry Jones, architect with Valdosta-based firm Ellis, Ricket and Associates, agrees.

Last week, Jones told a committee of council members and city department heads tasked with researching the renovation project at a meeting the ability to serve alcohol at events would be the number one question people interested in renting the space will ask.

Mayor Kevin Grissom appointed Manders, council members Corey Lesseig and Charles Broady, Better Hometown Manager Bethany Strickland and Police Chief Chris Wright to a committee several months ago tasked with researching the renovation project. The committee, except for Broady, met with Jones last Thursday to review project plans his firm created several years ago when the exterior of the depot was renovated. That work was completed in 2017.

Councilman Keith Brooks, Industrial Development Authority Director Matt Carter, Mayor Kevin Grissom and City Clerk Jenny Grant also attended the meeting.

Lesseig and Brooks indicated they would have the alcohol ordinance revision placed on the council’s work session agenda for Monday, March 2. (See related story).

We’ll know by Tuesday how it’s going to go, Lesseig told the group.

Blackshear could potentially model their ordinance after the City of Patterson. Their ordinance allows for alcohol to be served at events held in Eagle Station, one of the most-booked event venues in Pierce County.

Should the renovation work proceed, it would also include renovation of the Chamber of Commerce and IDA offices housed in the front section of the depot as well. The committee asked Jones to draft plans for that work to include removing the drop ceiling and restoring the original beat board, pine ceilings above, tearing out the carpet and staining the concrete floor underneath. The renovation would feature exposed ductwork and beams throughout the building.

We’ll build cross beams that look original to use for duct work, Jones says.

Bathrooms in those offices will be remodeled to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

Renovations to the freight depot will include construction of bathrooms, a catering kitchen and a mechanical room. Most of the room would be restored as an event space able to accommodate 240 people. Contractors will fill the walls with insulation, cover them in felt, and then install heart pine boards  — as many of the originals as can be restored  — over the walls. The boards will be sanded and finished to “look like new,” Jones says.

The depot floor will also be stabilized with plywood underneath to help absorb the vibration of passing trains, and the cracks between the pine planks sealed before the floor is refurbished. A removable platform will be constructed over the old scales still in their original location on the depot floor and LED lighting that appears to be 19th century period will be installed.

New electrical wiring, HVAC system and technology to accommodate group presentations will also be installed in the depot. The depot will be equipped with Wifi.

Manders and Carter would move their offices temporarily to the newly refurbished depot while renovations to their offices are completed as the second phase of the project.

Jones was not able to provide the committee with a budget estimate for the work last week, but was instructed to draw up two contracts  — one for the freight depot and one for the Chamber and IDA offices  — that would include those estimations.

Jones did advise the committee that renovation work moves slowly, and estimated it would take 18 months to renovate the freight depot.

“New construction goes real fast. Restoration work goes real slow,” he said. “A lot of this is hand labor, not just machine work.”

“A lot of gold you’ll find when you start tearing out … you say, ‘my plans were to tear all this up, but my plans just changed’,” Jones added.

The city is researching several funding options for the work, including a Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) loan/grant program, and/or interim financing through a local bank. The city also has SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) monies allocated for capital improvement projects available.

The train depot exterior renovation was funded through a $250,000 grant that required the city to match $25,000 for a total project cost of $275,000. Exterior renovations, also designed by Jones’ firm, included a new insulated roof, brick repair and vandalism damage repair, trim paint, skirting around the building. The deck was rebuilt, wheelchair ramp and railings installed.

Ellis, Ricket and Associates specializes in designing historic renovation projects. See photos of other train depots they’ve renovated at https://eraarchitects.com/.