Old City Hall could be shining example of restoration

Published 9:17 pm Tuesday, May 19, 2009

By Staff
One of the most distinctive buildings in the area is back in the hands of the city of Washington.
During its May 11 meeting, the city accepted ownership of its old city hall, or DeMille building, as some refer to it. The property had been owned by Beaufort County.
The 1884 building currently sits vacant and neglected on Market Street, but it’s not difficult to imagine the once majestic structure in its heyday. Now that it owns the building again, the city wants to find an appropriate use for it.
To help restore and update the building, the city will likely seek an energy-conservation grant and other sources of grant funding. Washington will eventually decide to keep or sell the building, but either way it wants to find a permanent use for it.
Ideas batted around for the structure include a museum with rotating exhibits, a genealogical study area and related library, a workshop for teaching restoration of historical homes, an art gallery or a food cooperative.
If it were sold to a private company, the options for its use are numerous. A combination book/music store might work well there, as might a two-level coffee/tea shop, a small health club or even a live-music venue. There are lots of exciting possibilities.
This is an excellent chance for the city to salvage a once-gorgeous downtown building for the benefit of everyone. We urge city officials to aggressively seek grants to pay for the building’s restoration and then determine — with public input — what the best use for it will be.
Last summer, Downtown Washington on the Waterfront conducted a meeting attended by about 50 people to discuss potential uses for the building. If the building is restored — and we’re confident it will be — another public meeting on its use would be greatly beneficial.