TARPON SPRINGS — Here's an unusual to-do list for Tarpon Springs city commissioners:
First, designate a highly visible downtown structure as historically significant.
Then, allow it to be torn down.
While the sequence might seem strange, officials say it's a workable solution to a tricky problem.
City commissioners voted unanimously earlier this week to begin the process of specifying a downtown commercial property as a "traditional cultural property," or one that is deemed significant to retaining the community's cultural identity.
Though the property at 144 E Tarpon Ave. is slated for demolition because it is structurally unsound, the historic designation will create stricter guidelines for rebuilding at the site, said Renea Vincent, director of the city's planning and zoning division.
Built in 1906 by Granville E. Noblit Sr., one of the city's original settlers, the two-story storefront once housed the Noblit's hardware store.
Today, the 3,200-square-foot building is in such a state of disrepair it's not economically feasible to salvage it, said Brian Keane, an engineer with Clearwater-based McCarthy and Associates.
"I am absolutely a believer in bringing buildings back to life," Keane said. "This is not one of them."
Keane and a representative from Fleischman Garcia Architects evaluated the building and found a severely deteriorated flooring system, partly collapsed walls and a rotting wood ceiling with holes that allow rainwater to leak into the building.
Also, most of the original facade was destroyed during renovation, which also removed much of the first-floor masonry work and added steel columns to create a storefront effect, said Alex Bothos, from Fleischman Garcia Architects.
"What it used to be is a very radical departure from what you see today," he said.
Because the stone facade was removed from the first floor, the building is now top heavy, creating a dangerous situation, the consultants said.
But demolition could be tricky because the building shares a wall with one at 138 E Tarpon Ave. That building, which has a distinctive stone arch, is listed as a contributing structure in the National Register Historic District. Keane and Bothos also recommended that building be torn down but suggested the archway could be saved and reincorporated into a new design at the site.
A third building, a warehouse behind 144 E Tarpon Ave., is also slated for demolition. All three buildings belong to Frank Forbes, who purchased the property in the early 1980s. Forbes lived at 144 and ran a used furniture store there. Auctions were held in the warehouse out back.
Forbes said he was ready to tear the building down last fall, but he stopped when commissioners passed a six-month moratorium to investigate whether the building had any historic significance and evaluated its structural integrity.
"We could've had this whole thing settled already and torn down," he said.
Forbes, 80, said he will have the buildings demolished, as requested by the city. Based on estimates he received last fall, Forbes said demolition should cost around $35,000.
He said he wasn't yet certain if he would rebuild or sell the property. On county tax rolls, the property is assessed at $333,614. Based on comparable sales, it's valued at $371,000.
The city issued a demolition order on March 10. Forbes has 30 days from receipt of that order to pull permits, said Joseph A. DiPasqua, development services director. Demolition should commence within 21 days after the permit is issued, he said.