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City council looking at options for old building

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

OXFORD -- The Oxford City Council is looking into several purchase offers on its old city hall and community center building located on Whatcoat Street.

Oxford College attorney and former mayor W.D. Ballard and architectural firm Carter Watkins Architects have expressed interest in repurposing the building.

During its monthly meeting Monday night, the City Council discussed the possibility of keeping the building or allowing another entity to purchase or use the building. Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said the planning commission and some council members have expressed interest in the city continuing to own the building, but the city plans to look into future uses of the space.

Oxford College Dean Stephen Bowen and Margaret Dugan, the college's new manager of Auxiliary Operations, attended the council's meeting to inform the council members about the college's interest in the space.

Dugan said it would be an ideal place for the college's book store, which now is operated through Barnes & Noble, and perhaps a coffee shop and some other vendors. She said the college's 900 students always are looking for a place to grab a cup of coffee, somewhere to sit down and study with wireless Internet access or just a place to relax from time to time.

"There's really not a place currently where Oxford residents and students interact even though we are all living here," she said Thursday. "I hope it will work out. I think it will be a great asset and mark the center of town and attract all of the people passing through."

She hopes to soon schedule a time to do a walkthrough of the old building with Oxford officials to take measurements and determine the feasibility of the space. She then later plans to meet with Emory personnel in Atlanta to discuss similar contracts with other vendors at their campuses to see what her next steps would be in this situation.

Dugan said although all of the details have yet to be ironed out, the college may be willing to agree to a long-term lease for the space.

Ballard sent a letter to the mayor and council late last month expressing his interest in purchasing the building.

"It is my desire to see the building preserved for the benefit of the citizens of Oxford," he said in his letter. "I am concerned ... that budget issues would promote a rash decision and there would be a desire to destroy this city relic. There is too much potential for this location."

He expressed interest in purchasing the building and the adjoining property from the boundary of Emory Street to a point just west of the parking area. He didn't propose a price, but he said that he would make necessary repairs and maintain the meeting area for use of the Oxford citizens and organizations of Oxford. He also asked that the city provide necessary sewerage hookups.

Ballard suggested that the meeting space could be used by residents -- hopefully for free or for a small cleaning fee. He also suggested that he could rent out the other area for a professional office, retail or coffee shop area.

"All of these businesses would be an asset to our community," he said, adding that he proposes to establish a trust to purchase, repair and operate the project that would allow tax deductible contributions to be made to it.

Although Councilman Frank Davis made a motion to consider Ballard's proposal during Monday's meeting, it did not receive a second motion, so it failed.

Councilman James Windham said he approached Carter Watkins Architects, which designed the new city hall, about the possibility of designing renovations for the old city building. He said the company suggested a new facade for about $9,000 and gutting the inside of the building for an unknown price, depending on the scope of the work.

However, Windham said he wasn't yet ready to make a motion to go into negotiations with the company.

"We need to know more," Roseberry said. "There are some real exciting opportunities coming from (Oxford College) on this."

The council agreed to wait to hear more from Oxford College and determine what they want done with the building.

At the end of August, the city transferred its administrative offices, public safety facilities and City Council headquarters to a new $1.6 million two-story, 8,400-square-foot building at 110 West Clark St.

The city has kept up the community center on Whatcoat Street since then and has been renting it out for between $100 and $200 for various groups. It recently conducted an emergency roof repair on the building for $6,500.