Former church may be demolished

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 29, 2009

NATCHEZ — What was once demolition by neglect may soon turn into demolition by will.

The former First Baptist Church building on Main Street has received approval from the Natchez Preservation Commission to be demolished.

The building was recently put on the market after previous owner, Judy Weatherly, who owned it for 18 months, decided she no longer wanted to attempt a full renovation.

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After receiving flak for removing stained glass windows and copper rain gutters, Weatherly was also going through a demolition by neglect process put into motion by the city and the preservation commission.

She was facing criminal charges if she did not make building improvements.

But now someone is showing interest in the property.

Now, Weatherly said a man who owns a house in Natchez but lives full-time in New Hampshire, is exploring purchasing the building.

City Planner John “Rusty” Lewis said Daniel Furden made a demolition request to the Natchez Preservation Commission earlier this month.

Though Furden has not yet purchased the building, he wanted approval to demolish before making any kind of transaction, Lewis said.

The plans Furden submitted were to demolish the building and do minor landscaping in its place.

Speculation has it that Furden is considering donating the post-demolished lot to St. Mary Basilica as a future parking lot.

The Rev. David O’Connor said he is not aware of those plans, and he only vaguely knows who Furden is.

Furden could not be reached for comment.

Sandra Smith, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker who is representing Furden and Weatherly, said he currently has no comment.

Lewis said the building’s demolition is more than likely the most viable option.

“Everybody is backed into a corner with this one,” Lewis said. “The church has become so disheveled, deteriorated. It’s not unreasonable to expect that there may not be any life left in the building.”

In his staff report recommending the demolition of the building, Lewis said the cost of razing the building versus the cost of rehabilitating it would likely be comparable.

He said the holes in the roof and the gaping windows have allowed weather elements to destruct the building.

“That sort of alteration, contraction and expansion weakens the structure, as have extreme weather events over the past year,” he said.

Also, Lewis said in light of the economic climate, it’s hardly likely an investor would be willing to seek out such a costly project of rehabilitation.

The situation is altogether lamentable, Lewis said.

And he’s not the only one who feels that way.

Weatherly said she would have liked to see the building rehabbed rather than demolished, but she took the offer that came.

“I’ll honor his option,” Weatherly said of Furden.

She would not say how much Furden is willing to pay for the building, but she said it is below the asking price of $299,000.