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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

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Cigar Factory

 BARTOW | The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board is giving two Winter Haven cousins 60 days to make good on their pledge to save the decaying cigar factory on downtown’s east side.

Bill Melvin and Ken Atkins had approached the board last summer seeking support to restore the building, where their great-great-uncle, E.E. Skinner, was superintendent of cigar-making operations in the 1920s.

The Polk County Commission, which owns the building, had declared it surplus and planned to demolish it.

The cousins were seeking the CRA’s support to halt that process.

The county agreed to hold off, and the cousins asked the CRA to consider taking ownership of the building while it’s being renovated.

The CRA agreed, in theory, but wanted to know more before proceeding.

This week, the CRA board set a deadline.

“I don’t think we should accept ownership until a plan is in place, including financing,” said CRA Chairman Terry Hunter. “We need to make it clear that we are willing to accept the cigar factory but not without a plan for where the money is going to come from.”

Hunter, a Bartow architect, estimated that renovations will total more than $2 million. That estimate marked the low end of the county’s estimate, which stretched to $4 million.

Hunter, who toured the building this month with county employees, said decay inside the building has advanced dramatically in recent years.

“Roofers aren’t willing to get up there anymore because the decking is so rotten,” he said.

And before now, the basement has been dry, he said, but there’s evidence that standing water has invaded that area.

Water lines show where it has reached up to 2 inches deep in some places.

Hunter told board members that the building is in perilous condition, and the biohazardous materials, including animal droppings, have gotten worse.
He and others wore special suits, including breathing apparatus, to enter the building.

“The question is, is it going to be worth what it’s going to take to make that building work?” he said.

Neither Melvin nor Atkins attended Monday’s CRA meeting, and they couldn’t be reached for comment for this report.

The cigar factory, at 235 N. Third Ave., opened in 1925 and continued to ship cigars until the early 1960s.

It served as a meeting house for the American Legion and later as the county’s distribution site for surplus food, including cheese.

In recent years, the county housed furniture and other surplus materials in the building, which totals about 15,000 square feet.

At Monday’s CRA meeting, Terry Pittman, the county’s facilities management director, said the factory site is one of two that commissioners are considering for a new Property Appraiser’s Office building. They’re also looking at a site on the north end of Jackson Avenue at Blount Street.

Pittman said officials aren’t ready to rush into a decision, but want to know where the preservation effort is going so they can react accordingly.




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