Commission ruling could help save downtown Ritz Theater

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 20, 2000

In a last-ditch effort to save the Ritz Theater on Pearl Street, the Natchez Historic Preservation Commission ruled this week that the building is being demolished by neglect.

Mimi Miller, director of preservation for the Historic Natchez Foundation, explained the ruling does not mean the commission is telling the owner to have the theater demolished.

&uot;Some people see it and think the city is making them demolish it,&uot; she said. &uot;What it means is the owner is effectively demolishing the building by neglecting it, and this is a mechanism to halt it.&uot;

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According to the preservation code, demolition by neglect is &uot;the improper or lack of maintenance … which results in substantial deterioration of the structure or threatens continuing preservation of the structure.&uot;

Following Wednesday’s ruling, City Planner David Preziosi said the owner has 90 days to perform repairs before the city may file misdemeanor charges.

The proceedings, which have been ongoing for several months, were slowed because of problems in contacting the owner, Sam Oberlin, who lives out of state, Preziosi said.

The commission already has made a preliminary determination of neglect on the theater and has notified the owner to appear before the commission.

Rock Oberlin represented the owner at the commission meeting Wednesday but left before the commission’s ruling. Attempts to contact the Oberlin family were unsuccessful.

&uot;It’s a useful tool,&uot; Preziosi said of the ruling. &uot;It gets properties to be restored that are in extremely bad shape.&uot;

Miller said buildings that are being demolished by neglect also devalue the surrounding properties and can be a danger to public safety.

But Miller is also concerned about the theater itself, which she believes is a valuable structure worthy of restoration.

&uot;We’re going to lose it, I’m afraid,&uot; Miller said.

&uot;It’s almost past the point where it can be saved.&uot;

Paul Dawes, city building inspector, said the theater was severely damaged by straight-line winds in February 1998 and was never repaired.

&uot;I understand the owner is actively trying to sell the building,&uot; he said.