Top 10 stories of 2012: No. 7

A year of back and forth with Liberty Warehouse
Dec. 24, 2012 @ 11:45 PM

Litigation and a development proposal marked an up and down year for Liberty Warehouse, the historic former tobacco warehouse where a portion of the roof collapsed in May 2011.

In February, the City-County Planning Department determined that the southern portion of the building, at 611 Rigsbee Ave., was in a condition of demolition-by-neglect, and ordered Greenfire Development, owners of the building, to make numerous repairs by Oct. 15. Greenfire filed a plan for making the repairs, but then in September released a plan to redevelop the warehouse. Greenfire proposed redeveloping 611 Rigsbee into apartments, retail and parking, which would require demolition of part of the warehouse. Greenfire pledged to re-use as much of the building materials as possible in the renovation. Greenfire also proposed renovating the northern part of the warehouse, at 613 Rigsbee Ave. – which is not included in the demolition-by-neglect order – for retail development.

After Greenfire released its development plan, the Planning Department put the demolition-by-neglect order on hold.

Greenfire is seeking to have the warehouse’s designation as a local historic landmark removed, which would allow the demolition required for the apartments. Earlier this month, Greenfire received a two-month delay from the Historic Preservation Commission on a request for a “certificate of appropriateness” to allow demolition to occur. Greenfire officials told the commission they want to refine plans that would include 160 apartments.

Preservation groups had sought to save the warehouse, but their plans hit several obstacles. To protect the building from demolition, the Historic Preservation Commission asked the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources to declare Liberty Warehouse a building of statewide historical significance. That designation would have allowed the commission to deny outright any demolition request, but the state turned down the application. (Under the local historic landmark designation, demolition may be delayed for up to one year.) Soon after the state denied the request, Greenfire released its redevelopment plan for Liberty Warehouse.  

The partial roof collapse forced a number of tenants to leave the building. In August, five former tenants filed suit against Greenfire and Liberty LLC claiming negligence in maintaining the property and seeking damages. Greenfire in its response to the lawsuit denied the former tenants’ claims.

Meanwhile, two former tenants, The Scrap Exchange and the Liberty Arts metal sculpture organization, have found homes at the Cordoba Center for the Arts to the east, which supporters say is in the first stages of becoming a new arts-centered district.

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