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Stonewall-Dudley building solution in the works?

Virgina City council hears from building owners

VIRGINIA CITY – A solution may be in sight for the Stonewall-Dudley building’s structural problems and safety issues, if the town, the building’s owners and the Montana Heritage Commission can come together and work on its future.

The building has been cordoned off by jack-fence style barricades because it is believed to be unsafe: Internal and external walls could be a threat to the public if they collapse – this the result of a leaking roof and delayed maintenance, according to Jim Jarvis, Virginia City’s historical preservation officer.

Cori LaFever visited with the council at their June 7 meeting to update them on her family’s ideas for the building. She and her sister Allison, an architect living in New York City, are the principle owners of the building, she told council.

Multiple reports have been generated about the building’s structural problems, LaFever said, citing 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 reports that listed internal and external walls that are structurally compromised.

The LaFevers were in contact with the Montana Heritage Commission about the building and what to do with it, and the commission came to the conclusion the building is still “salvageable.”

However, this salvage would be at different levels: 

• One level would be restoring the building to full and safe occupation, a cost of millions of dollars, LaFever said.

• Another level would be restoring it to an unoccupied status, still quite a large chunk of change.

• A third level would involve emergency repairs, estimated at about $130,000 by her sister, LaFever said, to keep the building structurally intact until a new owner can be found.

The LaFevers don’t have the wherewithal to fund a complete restoration, LaFever said. So what they propose is to do the emergency repairs keeping the building together long enough for the Heritage Commission to acquire it.

This would involve a rehabilitating the roof, fixing the unstable walls, and stabilizing and bracing as much of the building as possible to make it safe.

The Heritage Commission has expressed interest in the building because, as Mayor Justin Gatewood said, it is the most historic building in Virginia City.

However, LaFever said the Heritage Commission cannot acquire the building immediately because other projects are priorities and the commission would need legislative approval for such a project, not available until 2019.

So, in order to do the emergency repairs, LaFever is asking the town for its help in acquiring grant money. For an individual, grants are largely unobtainable, LeFever said. But with the town’s backing, getting grants – such as the $7,500 Montana Historical Society grant – would be easier.

If the town could help and they could raise the money for the emergency repairs, the LaFevers would “donate” the building to the Heritage Commission, LaFever said.

Gatewood told LaFever he’d would like to see the 2017 report her family had generated about the building’s problems, so the town could know what sort of triage the building’s structure would need. His interest in this was public safety, he said.

LaFever balked at sharing the report because with other buildings the family owns, similar reports had been shared and caused problems for them. 

Gatewood also wondered what would happen if the city and the family couldn’t get grant money to do the restoration work. Lafever said the family could put no more than $100,000 into the effort because this investment wouldn’t be returned. when the building was sold.

Councilman Jon Osborn suggested creating a foundation to raise money to fund the repairs. LaFever said that as private owners, they cannot do this, but the town might.

Council president Dave Bacon wondered about the building’s National Historic Landmark designation, if federal money might be used. LaFever said Allison had applied for a grant through the National Historic Preservation offices and it was “stuck in limbo.”

Jarvis told council he thought the project was “big, but do-able” if everyone could work together on the effort. He didn’t foresee private sector money coming into the effort, but with a collaboration of private and public effort, the emergency stabilization effort was “an excellent first step.” He foresaw the stabilization effort yielding perhaps a decade’s worth of time, during which the Heritage Commission could get legislative approval to acquire the building. 

Jarvis also liked the idea of putting together an organization to acquire funding.

“I’m truly excited about this,” he said, offering his help in any fundraising.

LaFever agreed to bring Allison and Gatewood together to discuss the 2017 report’s findings, before the city would make any final decisions about this. 

LaFever also agreed to let the city block off the alley behind the building on the north and west sides as a life-safety issue.

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