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Owners hope to convert Prentiss Club building into firefighters museum

NATCHEZ — The owners of the historic Prentiss Club building that was heavily damaged in a Sunday fire, said Thursday they hope to transform the remaining structure into a firefighters museum.

“We have been brainstorming for the past 48 hours and the building would cost $3-and-half-to-$4 million to rebuild,” said Fred Kent, who along with his wife, Melinda, owns the building. “We can’t throw good money after bad money, so out of the ashes we are going to build a firefighters museum.”

The Kents purchased the building in June with plans to transform it into a museum and event venue. Renovations were nearing completion and the Kents had hoped to open the venue next week, but Sunday’s fire put a stop to their plans.

Kent said transforming the building into a firefighters museum would be a fitting way to pay tribute to firefighters throughout the world for the past 100 years.

“When you walk in, on the left side you’re going to see the Prentiss building as it was,” Fred said. “On the right, you will see the Prentiss Club after the fire, and in the basement it is a pristine Prentiss Club bar.”

Fred said the building is structurally sound and such a museum would be a testament to the work firefighters put in to saving the building.

“It is going to honor every firefighter that has fought fires in the country throughout the past 100 years,” Fred said. “Those firefighters fought so hard on this fire.”

Fred said numerous videos exist of the Prentiss Club fire and the museum would show movies of the fire and other historical fire videos.

“We will have movies of the start of the fire and movies honoring firemen and their bravery,” Fred said.

First order of business, Fred said, is to get a roof on the building and workers began working on the roof Wednesday.

Estimates to put the original low-hipped roof with red tiles back as it was are between $300,000 and $400,000, Fred said.

“We are looking for a more affordable way to do it,” Fred said.

Under consideration, Fred said, are a copper-colored metal roof or a shingled style roof. A metal roof, Fred said, would be faster to install and is lighter than other options.

Historic Natchez Foundation director Carter Burns said the Foundation has been working with the Kents on plans to salvage the building and to get a roof on soon as possible to limit further damage.

“The tile roofs are expensive,” Burns said, “so we are looking at different roofing options, including a shingle roof that looks like a tile roof to get something on there quickly.”

Burns said the Foundation and the Kents would go to the Natchez Preservation Commission on Wednesday to see what kinds of roof materials the commission will approve.

“We want to get something that will be approved and protect the building,” Burns said.

Burns said the HNF would support the Carters in their plans for the building.

“We supported the original idea of the museum and support continuing any way the building could be used,” Burns said. “We support all of that. I don’t know what the final result will be but we are working with the clients to figure out the best way forward.”

Fred said he believes a firefighters’ museum will be a good tourism draw for the area.

“We will invite firefighters from throughout the country to learn how to fight fires and save lives,” Fred said, adding he hopes the museum could be completed in 2019.

“No promises,” he said.

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