Downtown preservation project drawing notice

·4 min read

Jun. 23—As they work among the bones of two old downtown buildings, a Greenville couple is engaged in an ambitious project to transform the moribund into the modern while respecting the preservation of history.

The 10,000-square-foot project in the 2400 block of Lee Street entails transforming the buildings that once housed Muzzy's Antiques Alley into modern retail space, a coffee shop and four loft apartments, one if which will be ADA compliant. Plans also call for a modern Internet-connected workspace and a place for meetings or small events. To the east of the coffee shop, which will be called Prairie Coffee Company, will be an outdoor seating area.

The project undertaken by Robert and Sherry Hall of Greenville is receiving professional assistance by general contractor Jim Hammack.

"Robert and I have always been drawn to the old," explains Sherry. The ability to restore buildings so they can be enjoyed by the community "is crucial in our opinion to the life of a town. Sure, new buildings are needed and necessary, but I think if we don't preserve the old, we lose something in the translation. We've always liked to work on old projects together. It's kind of the meshing of his (Robert's) strengths and my strengths that really came together in a project that includes living spaces and the coffee shop."

Robert, 54, recently retired from AT&T, where he worked for 32 years at the company's office in Greenville. In their more than three decades of marriage, he and Sherry had always talked about tackling a project together, and that idea gained more attention when she had a bout with breast cancer seven years ago.

"Life gets reshuffled," Robert says.

In January, the Halls purchased the properties and began their renovation.

The renovation calls for complete retrofitting of the building's mechanical systems: HVAC, plumbing, electrical and fire sprinklers.

"It's definitely going to have the old look and the old feel, but we're going to upgrade all the systems," says Hammack. Given the buildings' ages, one would expect no less.

The building that will become Prairie Coffee Company was built in 1907, and the larger one to its east has been identified on the city's 1918 fire map, although its precise age is a mystery.

Hammack believes the coffee shop might be operational by the latter part of this year. Along with coffee, the shop will offer such things as tea, chai, smoothies, Italian sodas, bakery and light breakfast/lunch fare, says Sherry.

The Halls began their project independent of the city's Vision 22 Committee, which is tasked with examining ways to revitalize downtown Greenville. Nevertheless, the Halls have been engaged with the committee as well as the Greenville Economic Development Board and the city's Main Street Program.

"We have had lots of talks with different entities that are interested in what's going on downtown, and partnering with them and making sure that what we have here is something that will benefit the whole downtown district," says Sherry. In fact, the Halls are taking advantage of the Main Street Program's building façade program.

One of the biggest changes to the buildings so far is not what's been added but what's been removed. Gone is the huge expanse of drab grey plaster the once stretched across the upper front of the properties. Now the original arched windows are visible, and the change is remarkable.

Robert recalled talking to a man who seemed stunned to see the windows.

"I'd never thought I'd see the light from those windows," said the man to Robert. He told Robert that he worked inside the building as a kid. "I can't believe what I'm seeing," he said.

The restoration of the buildings' windows was among the topics of interest referenced in a recent City Council meeting.

"If you talk about historic preservation for Main Street, this is as close as it gets," Greenville Main Street Manager Doyle Dick said of the Halls' project. "We don't get it very often, but this is a wonderful renovation."

As for her vision of downtown, Sherry sees progress measured in feet.

"Foot traffic is essential to any downtown. The more businesses that we can get down here that generate foot traffic, the more vitality comes. Of course, parking and sidewalks too are very important to pedestrians," she says.

The Halls note that the current incantation of downtown is hardly bereft of vitality.

"The one thing that we have learned since being down here is that the downtown is a vibrant place, and not a lot of Greenvillites know that. There's a community down here and they love being here," says Sherry.

"And it's a community of professionals," adds Robert.

The Prairie Coffee Company and its related development have drawn a lot of attention and curiosity from Greenville residents. So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. People seem pleased and excited.

The project has generated a significant Facebook following. Robert referenced a particular post that thanked them for giving back to the city.

"That's a pretty significant thing, and it gives Sherry and I confirmation and assurance and pride that we're doing the right thing and moving in the right direction."