When work is completed on the facades of two buildings in the 100 block of West Main Street, all but two buildings between North Limestone and Wrenn Court across from the vacant CentrePointe lot will have been restored.
"This block is going to be amazing," said Anna Marletta, general manger of Bellini's restaurant at 115 West Main Street. "This is the core" of downtown. "This is the only intact block (of old buildings) left on Main Street. It's got to look the nicest."
Perhaps one of downtown's most stunning facades was discovered under a plywood and brick veneer at 123 West Main, the old Phoenix and Third National Bank. Owners found an elaborate beaux-arts facade with four columns, each topped with ornate capitals.
"We had some suspicion that brick facade was covering something magical underneath. We just didn't know what," said Josh Marrillia, owner of Marrillia Design and Construction. His firm is restoring both the facade and interior of the late 19th-century building, which will become an upscale lounge and jazz club that is scheduled to open in the spring.
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"You have this seamless example of historic facade next to historic facade in this block," Marrillia said. "It's preserving what our streetscape looked like at the turn of the previous century."
Restoration of the limestone and terra cotta facade "is very tedious work" — and expensive, Marrillia said.
Among other things, GRW Architects used a three-dimensional laser scanner to map out details for replacement pieces that were knocked off when the brick facade was erected in the 1960s.
The cost to restore the facade will be close to $300,000, said Kerry Glass, who will be general manager of the lounge.
The other building now undergoing facade restoration is 109 West Main, which houses Sunrise Bakery. Workmen started removing the stucco facade on New Year's Day.
Businessman James Caton bought the building 40 years ago but said he only recently thought about restoring the facade at the urging of his daughter Caren, whom he described as an avid preservationist.
The original windows are being rebuilt, and the building's brick front is being tuck-pointed. Caton expects to hold his costs to about $35,000. Fiscally, he said, "I'm a pretty conservative fellow."
This block of West Main lies within the Courthouse Area Design Overlay Zone, an area in the core downtown business district where facade changes must be approved by the Courthouse Area Design Review Board.
The district was created by ordinance in 2000 to encourage growth and redevelopment downtown while preserving its unique features. To date, 41 projects have been completed, said Billy Van Pelt, a staff review officer for the board.
Many of the projects have occurred during the past two or three years.
"Success has a domino affect," Van Pelt said. "Every project that is completed encourages other building owners to make a similar investment."
Projects approved by the review board include renovation of Harvey's and Hugo's on West Main; Mia's and Molly Brooks buildings on North Limestone; and Dudley's, Table 310 and Metropol on West Short.
"Arguably, the one failure was the CentrePointe block," board chairman Mike Meuser said.
The review board gave developers Dudley and Woodford Webb permission in June 2008 to raze the buildings on the north side of the CentrePointe block, which is part of the design district. The entire block ultimately was cleared, but a proposed 25-story hotel and condominium project stalled, turning a once bustling block into an empty field.
Design guidelines for the district are fairly flexible and do not require that facades be restored to their original states unless architectural features are found intact. Guidelines do not dictate paint color.
Contemporary interpretations of historic storefronts are allowed. That happened to the building next to the Phoenix and Third National Bank building. The first floor front had been sealed with concrete block, and windows on the second and third floors were missing.
A first-floor contemporary brick facade was added with a modern door and two large windows. Windows were added to the top part of the building, which was then painted blue.
In all, Van Pelt said, "when you walk through the design review district now, everything looks pretty good."