Hoping to cut costs while making way for a more robust business scene in downtown Zachary, officials are planning to sell three city-owned houses in the Zachary Historic District.
Under an ordinance introduced by the City Council at its June 23 meeting, the houses will be declared as surplus and put up for auction. So will several pieces of furniture and other items inside the houses.
The houses — which were once owned by the Allison, Bauman and McHugh families and were donated to the city — sit at the original center of Zachary on Florida and Virginia streets. Along with the old town hall, train depot and three other houses — two of which are currently privately owned — they form a multi-building museum filled with artifacts and other reminders of life in Zachary in its early days.
Some of those buildings survived a huge fire that consumed Zachary in 1903. Because of their age, upkeep has proven costly.
“With any old property, it’s just an ongoing expense,” said City Councilman Hunter Landry, whose district includes the historic houses. “We allocate several hundred thousand dollars a year toward the maintenance of those old properties. Long-term, it would save the taxpayers a lot of money, and I think that while the city owns them, they’re essentially going to be nothing but museums.
“This has been an ongoing conversation for years now. The city of Zachary owns a kind of astronomical amount of quote-unquote museum properties compared to other municipalities.”
Zachary officials are mulling what to do with a group of historic houses and other buildings that need repairs they say they cannot afford.
The city will set a minimum acceptable price for each house that won’t be revealed to the public, Landry said. A sealed bid system will be used.
Landry said the move will allow the city to devote more attention and resources to the Historic District buildings it is keeping: the town hall, the train depot and the Annison House, which is considered part of the Historic District but is located on Old Scenic Highway.
Updates to the museum inside the depot and other improvements are being discussed, Landry said, with the overall goal of turning downtown into more of a destination for entertainment and commerce. He envisions businesses such as restaurants moving into the old houses and boosting the city’s sales tax collections.
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When Whimsical Alley, a children’s clothing and toy boutique and event space, set up shop recently in the privately owned Ratcliff House downtown, “people started coming to us showing interest in the other properties,” Landry said.
He hopes Whimsical Alley sparked a trend that will continue. It would coincide with a vision for downtown revitalization that city leaders are pursuing with the help of Downtown Strategies, an Alabama firm that specializes in reviving downtown economies.
The houses’ new owners will be required to preserve the structures’ historical appearance, Landry said. The Allison house is built in the Creole cottage style, and the Bauman and McHugh houses are Queen Annes.
Landry said he has talked with the board that oversees the Historic District. Though the board members are sad to see the city let go of the houses, they’ve been understanding, he said.
“I’m a historian myself. I teach history,” said Landry, who’s also a teacher at Zachary High School. “I respect and I love the history and stories behind them. They’re some of the only remaining properties from the big fire that destroyed most of downtown. But at the same time in my mind, they’re not reaching their full potential while they’re in the possession of the local government.”