Restaurateur seeks old City Hall space
Restaurateur seeks old City Hall space
By John Howell
Como Mayor Everette Hill said that would-be restaurateur Robert Birge is preparing plans to convert the old city hall building on Main Street to become a fish restaurant.
Como Main Street Association (CMSA) representative Karen Ott Mayer spoke briefly with town officials during their Tuesday, Dec. 13 meeting. The building is located in Como’s downtown commercial historic district. Its renovation has been the focus of CMSA which during 2015 obtained for the town a $6,000 matching grant for roof renovation through the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History (MDAH). Another grant for window and door renovation is pending.
“Last night our group (CMSA) talked about it at length and about his plans and the fact the we’ve been working on the building, and I talked to the gentleman at the state and he said … if we start changing the footprint of the building it could get touchy and dicey,” Mayer said.
“I thought Mr. Birge was coming tonight,” Mayer said, when the mayor recognized her prior to town officials entering executive session to discuss a police department personnel matter.
“No, they took care of Mr. Birge last meeting,” the mayor said. Minutes from a November 21 special called meeting state that Alderwomen Rachel Powell and Teresa Dishmon and Alderman John Walton authorized the mayor to “proceed with negotiations for future rental.” Alderwomen Ruby Higgenbottom and Tonia Heard did not attend the meeting, according to the minutes.
“My only comment to the board was going to be that — and the state said that it doesn’t have to be a detailed construction plan — (they need) just a good drawing of what his intentions are,” Mayer continued during last Tuesday’s meeting. “They suggested that for y’all’s benefit, a business plan because this is a pretty big business proposition he’s putting before you all,” Mayer said.
“We’ve already got him working on that,” the mayor replied.
“They (MDAH) said the way it works is that he brings it before the preservation board,” Mayer continued. “Our intentions are to work with him (Birge) the best we can with the preservation.”
“He said there was nothing changing on the front of the building,” Hill said.
“There could be some issues about the sides and if he wants to add on and all that,” Mayer said. “If we could just get his plan, we could figure out where we are.”
“He’s putting one together; he’s going to give it to us first,” Hill said.
CMSA representative Meg Bartlett showed town officials old photos of the building along with architectural renderings of possible renovation options.
“It can be a very positive (development) but we do want to follow with the facade and the original keeping of what the building was,” Bartlett said.
“He said he would have no problem working with y’all,” Hill said.
Mayer said that grant money might be contingent on maintaining the integrity of the building’s historic footprint. “As soon as they give me more information, I’ll get it to you,” she said.
Business owner Melvin Crockett, who was among citizens who attended the meeting, asked if the building had been leased.
“No,” the mayor replied.
“I know there are one or two people who are looking for a place here in town,” Crockett said.
“We’ve got a guy who has been interested in it all the time,” the mayor said. “I let him meet with Karen and them, and that’s when they brought the plans, to give him an idea of what they are looking for because he’s willing to take the building as it is and fix it up.”
“I don’t know whether that’s a question for the city attorney,” Mayer said. “There’s no signs on it saying ‘for rent, for lease.’ … You don’t have to … offer it on the open market or anything?”
“Not that I’m aware of, but that’s not something I’ve researched,” said city attorney Revonda Griffin.
“Mr. Birge is the only one who has come and offered to put his money in the building,” Mayor Hill said, “and to talk with y’all and design it whichever way you want to do it. He came to the board and offered to put his money in the building; he didn’t tell us to fix it up for him.”
Mayer said that CMSA could also arrange for restaurant consultants who could offer design assistance to the restaurateur without charge.
“That was my purpose in putting you and him together,” Hill said.
In other business during the December 13 meeting:
• Aldermen voted to allow Ray Jackson to replace two mobile homes with new mobile homes. Jackson told town officials that one had burned and the other was old and needed to be replaced with a newer model.
“I don’t see any problem with it if there was one there,” Hill said. “New land that hasn’t ever had a trailer on it, you can’t put one there;
• Aldermen voted 4 to 1 to accept the bid recommendation of Cook Coggin Engineers that awards rehabilitation work on Como’s wastewater treatment plant to Hemphill Construction. Hemphill Construction, Inc. submitted a low bid of $481,942 for the work.
“However, due to the lack of funding to award the project in full, we recommend awarding the project to Hemphill …, based on deducting … items of work,” attorney Griffin stated, reading from Cook Coggins letter of recommendation. Removing a concrete chlorine contact chamber from the bid items reduced the cost to $344,661 which was within the Community Development Block Grant amount.
The Cook Coggin letter also stated that the recommendation had been made in consultation with the town’s certified water operator, K. T. Newman.
Alderwoman Teresa Dishmon made the motion to accept the recommendation, seconded by Alderwoman Tonia Heard. Alderman John Walton and Alderwoman Ruby Higgenbottom added their “aye” vote.
After looking over the bid and letter of recommendation, Alderwoman Rachel Powell voted “nay.”
“I just don’t know about all that stuff,” Powell said.
• Powell also voted “nay” on approving town claims for the month, questioning a $4,600 bill from Birge Brothers.
“What’s that for?” She asked.
“The same thing he’s always been doing all this time, fixing water leaks here in town. He’s fixing to run a gas line to the fire department.”
“It keeps getting higher and higher,” Powell said.
“It’s really cheap,” the mayor replied.
After further discussion, aldermen voted 4 to 1 to approve claims totaling $54,982.20.