V.R. Phipps offered the Town of Smithfield $25,000 to buy the property, which he wants to turn into a winery. Phipps said he could renovate the building in 4 to 6 months in time for the winery to start in 2016.
Councilman Emery Ashley asked Phipps if he had any cost projections on how much the renovations would cost. Phipps declined to disclose those numbers.
Councilman Perry Harris said the site is a “sensitive piece of property” one he hated to see the Town lose control over. Mayor John Lampe agreed, saying the building has been empty for 40 years but once it is sold the property, next to the Smithfield Town Commons on Front Street, is no longer controlled.
Councilman Travis Scott pointed out the plant is not in compliance with the Town of Smithfield’s own appearance ordinances and it is not zoned properly for a business.
Questions were raised if the plant was considered a historical property and additional steps might need to be taken before it could be torn down.
The Council voted 5-to-1, with Councilman Marlon Lee casting the only dissenting vote, to demolish the plant as soon as possible, after giving Town Attorney Bob Spence time to confirm the site is not considered historical. Spence told the council he would research the property records but was doubtful it was a historical structure. Councilman Roger Wood recused himself from the vote because Phipps was a relative.
D.H. Griffin was the low bidder for the demolition at $64,900. Other bids submitted were for $69,500 and $90,600.
Officials said a new boat ramp being installed in 2016 at the Town Commons would likely require parking on the site of the water plant. By not selling the property, they could accommodate the NC Wildlife Commission’s request for the parking area, while maintaining ownership of the land.
The Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation had requested the Town preserve the old water plant as a historical property.
Water Plant History
In 1911, the Town of Smithfield issued a $55,000 bond for the construction of the water plant after it was passed by voters. The 1911 bond also included work for water, sewer, and an “electrical light plant” which were considered to be vital for the towns growth.
The water treatment plant at the north end of Front Street was originally completed in 1913. The three story, three bay brick building had segmental arched openings, a corbelled cornice, and several one- and two-story brick additions.
According to state archive records from 1913, “E. R. Patterson recalled what a spectacle the strange men and machines made as they brought these new improvements to his sleepy and dark southern town.”
In September 2010, an arson fire at the vacant water plant caused minor damage. Smithfield Police said at the time a mattress inside the building was likely set on fire by a homeless person. No arrests were ever made.