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updated: 3/21/2013 8:35 AM

Effort on to save Charleston building

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  • The exterior of the old post office in Charleston.

      The exterior of the old post office in Charleston.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

CHARLESTON -- The neoclassical building that housed the city's post office for many years has unique historic architecture that dates back to 1917, which the Charleston Historic Preservation Commission is working hard to make sure is protected.

Elisa Roberts, commissioner with the CHPC, said the old Charleston post office, 320 Sixth St., has architectural and historical significance that is worth saving.

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"It would be nice to have a preservation-minded buyer come forth and do an adaptive reuse of the building," Roberts said.

The one-story, all-brick structure is currently up for sale through Coldwell Banker Commercial Devonshire Reality of Champaign. The building is listed for $145,000 to potential buyers interested in rehabilitating the space and is under a two-year preservation covenant, which ends in March 2014. By Samantha Bilharz.

The U.S. Postal Service and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency signed a preservation covenant in March 2012 which provides the building protection from demolition for two years. With one year left on the protective covenant, the only requirement for those interested in purchasing the building is to keep the interior terrazzo floors and spiral staircase.

After the two years is over, the covenant will be void and whoever buys it is not required to keep the building intact -- which means the historic building could be at risk of demolition.

Roberts said the historic preservation commission is redoubling its efforts to make sure the building gets in the hands of a buyer who will preserve the building's rich history.

"Today you couldn't build a building like the Charleston post office for the price -- it would be expensive to recreate," she said.

According to Roberts, the architecture that is unique to the building includes the terrazzo floors, wood frame/sash windows, wainscot paneling, rondels over the three outdoor windows and wood dado paneling, in addition to many other features that could be an asset to potential buyers.

"It's unique to Charleston to have a neoclassical government building like this one," she said. "In your small community, buildings are not built like this anymore because costs prohibit it, so we want to preserve it."

Since the first year that the building has been up for sale, Roberts said there have been about eight to 10 showings, although she is unsure of how serious the potential buyers were in preserving the historic integrity of the property.

"We don't have one particular use in mind -- we just want to see whoever buys it to respect the design and adapt to the building," she said.

Although the CHPC doesn't have a specific use in mind for the building, Roberts said the site's close proximity to the courthouse square would be appropriate for a law firm to adapt to the building, and the loading dock on the property might make it appealing for a restaurant owner.

Roberts said other post offices around the United States similar to the former USPS facility in Charleston have been adapted for use as a conventions and visitors bureau such as in Nacogdoches, Texas, and an architect firm office such as in Bedford, Ohio.

Come April, Roberts said, the commission hopes to host an open house at the historic structure so the public can get a more in-depth look at the building.

The 6,388-square-foot historic building is eligible for financial support under the National Register of Historic Places, which means a potential buyer can be qualified for Federal Income Tax Credit, Roberts said. In addition, the old post office is within the downtown tax increment financing (TIF) district.

Roberts said the best way to preserve the building is to keep it intact through adaptive reuse. She gave examples of adaptive reuse in Charleston such as: the old County Market building in Charleston, which is now a Twice is Nice, 960 18th St.; and the old Times-Courier building, which is now home to Charleston ATA Martial Arts, 307 6th St.

"Adaptive reuse is the way to go in our current economy," Roberts said. "Taking a building that was built for other use and adapting it -- in a preservation world, that's a very green thing to do."

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