OPINION COLUMNS

Incentives needed to protect city jewel

By Messenger Staff | Published Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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It wasn’t that long ago that Decatur was a ghost town after 5 p.m., but thanks to several new boutiques and restaurants, today the square is jumping day and night.

Sadly, that could all go up in smoke with one devastating fire because roughly half of the properties on the square don’t have sprinkler systems installed.

The east and west sides are largely protected by sprinkler systems, but not one has been installed on the north or south side yet. Entrepreneurs and developers have worked hard to build business downtown, and now it’s time for the city to step up and help preserve it.

Developer Mark Moran took the lead several years ago installing sprinkler systems as his properties were remodeled or between tenants, resulting in the following addresses being protected: 109 N. State St. (Fuzzy’s); 113 N. State St. (X Chan Bistro); 115 N. State St. (Simply COCO); and 119 N. State St. (old Majestic Theater) on the west side; and 108 N. Trinity St. (Hey, Sugar); 110 N. Trinity St. (Trinity Street Coffee Bar); and 112 N. Trinity St. (formerly Nell’s Nook); on the east side. Martin Woodruff installed the sprinkler system during the remodeling of 106 N. Trinity St., before Reunion on the Square opened. It’s now Rooster’s.

According to Moran, the cost just to install the system riser can be $60,000 to $70,000. Obviously, the city of Decatur can’t write property owners checks, but it could offer tax incentives encouraging property owners to install the system.

The city benefits from increased business downtown, so why not take steps to preserve it? Seems like common sense.

A fire destroys not only the building, and possibly those connected to it, but also the business. Some small business owners might not be able to re-open if a fire guts their storefront. When a business closes, that’s not just a loss to the business owner. It’s also a loss to the city in sales tax, jobs and tourism, not to mention historic value.

According to a 2015 study commissioned by the Texas Historical Commission, and conducted by Rutgers University and the University of Texas at Austin, historic preservation is one of the best investments available for both developers and the public. In 2013, preservation activities in Texas generated more than $4.6 billion of state gross domestic product (GDP) in Texas and supported more than 79,000 Texas jobs. It also produced significant net tax revenue for both state and local governments, equaling more than $290 million annually.

The Dec. 26 fire on the Denton square is an example of the devastating effects of a downtown blaze and how neighboring businesses suffer. The Downtown Mini Mall was destroyed and several nearby stores remain closed.

La Di Da, a boutique next door to the mini mall, posted the following on Facebook Monday:

“Two weeks have passed since the fire that destroyed the entire mini mall, forced people out of their homes and closed several businesses. La Di Da, along with Jupiter House Coffee and Shop the Barn remain closed.

“Smoke damage is no joke! Especially when it comes to “soft goods.” The heavy smoke and soot touched everything, leaving little to nothing salvageable. We have spent the last two weeks, along with some very dear friends tackling the painstakingly slow task of inventorying every single thing within the walls of the Da. The smoke remains too strong in our basement and items are still very wet … so the basement has yet to be tackled.”

The post goes on to describe the painstaking waiting game with insurance – an even more arduous process since multiple agencies are involved between various tenants and property owners. It says they are at a “standstill.” Meanwhile, they have customers who received gift certificates for Christmas or need to exchange items received as gifts, and they have nothing to offer them. They have zero inventory, and their building isn’t even the one that caught fire.

The mini mall did not have a sprinkler system installed, and although there’s no guarantee it would have saved the building, it would have suppressed the fire until fire departments arrived and perhaps prevented it from growing as large as it did and adversely affecting its neighbors.

For a long time, Decatur didn’t have “one of those squares” – the kind where people window shop, come to unwind and meet friends. But now that we do, why risk losing it?

Although no building can be fireproofed, it’s senseless not to install sprinkler systems as a preventative measure to lessen the effects of a potential tragedy, preserving historical buildings, the local economy and the hard sought revitalization.

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