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Planters Warehouse will go forward, vows developer

SoVaNow.com / October 24, 2018
Down, but not out - The Planters Warehouse project in downtown Clarksville is not defunct even after the historic tobacco warehouse was destroyed two weeks ago by the high winds of Tropical Storm Michael.

After the front façade of the surviving building was blown down by the storm, Dave McCormack of Petersburg-based Waukeshaw Development Company traveled to town to assess the wreckage. He wants area citizens to know that he is optimistic the downtown redevelopment will move forward.

The building had been undergoing a historic renovation by McCormack and his team of architects, engineers and contractors — with the goal being to create a mixed-used commercial/residential building in the heart of Clarksville. Tropical Storm Michael forced a change of plans, but not an end to them. McCormack and his engineers are working to decide what parts, if any of the building is salvageable and can be reused.

“I am looking for a path forward, but I am committed to Clarksville because it’s a great place,” said McCormack.

McCormack could not say with certainty that the funding he’s lined up to repurpose the Planter’s Warehouse would still be available. He is awaiting final word from his bank and his outside investors. But McCormack expressed optimism that everyone would agree to continue with the project. He said he and several others had too much invested already to walk away.

It was around 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, when strong winds sent bricks from the facade of Clarksville’s most historic structure scattering across Virginia Avenue, onto nearby buildings and into the yard of Reggie Young’s dentist office across the street. The building’s front extreior was the last vestige of a warehouse that for more than 160 years stood at the center of Clarksville’s, Virginia’s and the world’s tobacco trade.

Before that fateful Thursday, McCormack had been working to repurpose the old warehouse into a mixed-use property, keeping the face of the building, while bringing the rest of the property up to modern day building standards. New plumbing and water lines were installed, and the broken and decayed rafters and bricks were removed.

When construction was finished, the ground floor would become commercial space, possibly a restaurant, while the second story would be residential, one and two-bedroom market rate apartments.

With the historic part of the building gone, McCormack said he could no longer rely on historic tax credits to fund the constructions. However, other sources of funding, including a state grant and outside investment, are still available, McCormack believes. “I have to make sure my partners are still on the team,” he said.

On the upside, with historic limitations lifted, McCormack said he now has more flexibility when it comes to design of the building’s exterior and the spaces inside.

“As a restaurant person at heart, I know how important retail is and have a desire to keep a retail front on the building,” he said.

Apart from that, McCormack said the design could change now that he is no longer forced to conform his plans meet historic preservation standards, although he feels it remains important that any building retain the historic character of the old warehouse.

“The bricks from the front were in bad condition, but I would love to use them in some way,” he said. The majority of the structure would be constructed using modern building materials, but the design would honor what was there before. He would like to incorporate the large arched doorway that once served as the main entrance to the warehouse, which he and his team were able to save.

McCormack said he has already discussed the project with Town Manager Jeff Jones. “I told him it might take me two to three weeks before I know exactly how to proceed. I’m still waiting for insurance to weigh in. I believe the bank is committed to this project and clearly a market exists. I can’t be certain, but that is my hope.”

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