PALMETTO -- Built in 1937 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, the Palmetto Armory building at 810 Sixth St. W. has seen better times.
In an attempt to preserve the historic structure, the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2488, which has called the building home since the 1960s, will partner to ensure necessary repairs are made.
According to CRA director Jeff Burton, the roof is largely original from the 1937 construction, when the two-story brick building was built for $30,000 by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration.
"That would be our immediate step if we are able to make this happen," Burton said.
The Palmetto City Commission has scheduled a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to approve
a deal for the CRA to execute a reverse mortgage on the building with the VFW, and investing more money to repair the building. Burton said he's been in discussions with the VFW for several months.
"The timing was right now," he said.
Burton said the CRA is interested in the historical value of the building "because the city has lost a lot of history over the years before they had a CRA to help with these kinds of things. We have had a friendly partnership with the VFW, and this year they came to us with a concern about preservation. At the same time, the VFW is worried about maintaining the building due to the costs."
Post commander Wayne Marge, a Vietnam War veteran, said maintenance costs are the main issue.
"We have two seasons where our veterans come back from the north and that's about 90 percent of them," Marge said. "It's a significant amount of money to keep this running on a daily basis. This partnership with the CRA is something I've wanted to do since I became commander."
Worrying about paying bills and maintenance isn't what Marge wants on his mind.
"We are here to help veterans," he said. "It's not a bar like some people think, although the bar helps us in our mission to help and support veterans. This partnership will help in just keeping this place open and continuing our primary mission."
Besides a new roof, Burton said the building needs to be tented for termites and brought up to American With Disabilities Act standards, although it is structurally sound. If approved, the CRA offices will be moved into the second floor of the armory, which once was a basketball court used by the community and the Palmetto High School girls basketball team until the 1950s.
The basketball court remains intact, as are all original upstairs windows, which have been protected for decades after being bricked over. Burton said all improvements would retain the building's historical character and the original basketball floor would remain intact.
The CRA budgeted $200,000 for office use in this budget cycle in anticipation of pursuing the partnership with the VFW. Burton said those funds would be used immediately toward a roof replacement and the CRA would pursue other funding for the remainder of the work.
"If approved Thursday, we will begin in earnest to put a plan together to get the building fully functional," Burton said. "This is one of those projects I love doing. That building has been there for as long as I can remember. I remember my dad taking me and my brother to play basketball when I was about 5. I could never figure out where that was until I walked into the armory."
Burton said he couldn't conceive of a more win-win situation.
"We'll be saving $24,000 a year on rent that can be better used in the CRA," he said. "We'll be able to preserve and maintain a historic building. The VFW will be able to maintain its operations and most of all, we are helping our veterans. For that reason alone, we would do this anyway."
Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said she expects this to be an easy deal for the city to accept.
"There are a lot of positive reasons for doing it," she said. "It's on the historic register, it means a lot to the community, it's adjacent to a city parking lot and it helps our veterans."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.