Old city firehouse finds a buyer

LUMBERTON — For those who have worked for the preservation of historic buildings and the revitalization of Downtown Lumberton, news of the sale of the old fire station at Elm and First streets was met with celebration.

Preservation North Carolina announced this past week the sale of the historic building to the Burgess Group, which plans to renovate it into office and meeting space. The Clinton-based Burgess Group has completed similar restoration projects across the state with investments in excess of $3 million.

“We are thrilled because the preservation of the old fire station was a top priority,” said Richard Monroe, president of Rediscover Downtown Lumberton. “We were really afraid we might lose that building.

“The renovation of the fire station will bring more people to the downtown, not just for entertainment but for business. This building has synergy with the public library, the Robeson County History Museum, the plaza and more.”

The building was constructed in 1917, about the same time as the Carolina Civic Center. It was built as Lumberton central fire station and also served as city hall and a library.

Vince Burgess, owner and manager of the Burgess Group, said the purchase is the “right fit” for his company, which has renovated several historic properties in Clinton.

“It’s a good location, close to our base in Clinton,” Burgess said. “There’s a great workforce here and strong downtown development, and we wanted to engage both those elements.”

Burgess has been active in historic preservation for some time. He is the recipient of the North Carolina Main Street Champion Award, which is part of the Main Street America program sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for his work to renovate and build projects in downtown areas.

The group plans to restore the fire station’s façade and where possible maintain original historic elements of the building’s interior. Upon completion of the renovation, one of the Burgess offices will locate to a portion of the building, ultimately housing 10 to 20 people. Burgess is also open to other adaptive uses for the space.

The building was constructed during a period of economic expansion in the city. Its location on a prominent corner in downtown Lumberton is just a block-and-a-half from the Lumber River, history museum and historic Carolina Civic Center.

The building is a two-story brick veneered edifice with an ornately designed Palladian front entrance on one side and two garage bay openings for fire trucks on the other side. It was expanded into its current size in the late 1940s with an addition that maintained its stately details and proportions.

After being retired by the city, there were plans to use the building as meeting space and for exhibits by the fire department. Some renovations were initiated and, although new windows were installed, several of the historic windows were kept and stored on-site. The interior is divided into large and small spaces, and has several bathrooms.

The news came on the heels of an announcement by the city of upgrades to an alley from the Civic Center to the Plaza.

“This is good for the city,” Mayor Bruce Davis said. “The future for Downtown Lumberton is looking good, and I am looking for more significant developments in the near future.

“Preserving the integrity of that building will be a good deal for the city. I want people who see that building to be excited about our city.”

Preservation North Carolina is a nonprofit that specializes in historic preservation. The city turned the building over to Preservation North Carolina, which will be paid by the Burgess Group. The city will benefit from getting the building back on the tax rolls.

“We were seeking a buyer who values historic preservation and could also bring the construction infrastructure required to restore this building; we found that in Vince and the Burgess Group,” said Cathleen Turner, regional director for Preservation North Carolina. “They have been responsive to both the community’s needs and vision for this space.”

As a contributing structure in the Lumberton Commercial Historic District, the building is eligible for tax credits.

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(Robesonian, 2/17/18)