Once slated for an arts center, fire could give historic fire hall to Walmart

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 4:32pm

East Nashville community leaders had big plans for the historic Gallatin Road Fire Hall when they fought to keep the building from being torn down by Walmart several years ago.

But those plans never materialized and the property could be going back to Walmart after a fire tore through the building on Thursday evening.

When firefighters arrived at the historic fire station — which operated from the 1930s until 1989 and once housed Engine No. 18 — they found it fully involved in flames at around 8 p.m. Thursday.

During a sweep of the boarded-up building, they found an injured man who was later transported to a hospital. On Friday, the Nashville Fire Department said the cause of the fire was under investigation.

Five years ago, the North Edgefield Organized Neighbors asked Walmart not to destroy the historic building that sits in a Walmart Neighborhood Market’s parking lot. Instead, they proposed to transform the decrepit building into a community arts center.

“Since it was a historic building, the Metro Historical Commission and neighbors in general, they worked to keep from tearing it down,” said Lula Brooks, who chaired a NEON committee to rehabilitate the building.

Those plans never materialized, and the fire could deed the property back to Walmart.

“In the event that the property and/or improvements thereon are subjected to any casualty (fire) or condemnation…then the property shall revert to (Walmart),” the deed reads.

However, a structural engineer will have to rule on whether or not the building is beyond repair before Walmart legally obtains ownership of the building. The Nashville Fire Department said the building sustained “heavy damage.”

When NEON originally convinced Walmart to give them the land, Brooks and others from the historical commission and the Metro Arts Commission started on a plan to restore the building into a community arts center called Arts Works.

But the plan never came to fruition.

“It took a year or more to get all settled … so the people who were involved with donating services or funds, they just lost interest after a while,” Brooks said.

NEON — which formerly offered afterschool services and other activities, according to Brooks — received $107,247 in Metro grant money in 2007. Roughly $35,000 of the money was given to NEON through a direct appropriation from former District 5 Councilwoman Pam Murray.

The grant money wasn’t specifically earmarked for the restoration of the fire hall, but was intended for “tutoring, arts programs and workshops,” according to council finance documents.

The funding from Metro stopped after 2007 — and the condition of the building has deteriorated even further since.

Earlier this year, Historic Nashville listed the fire hall on its “Nashville Nine” list of endangered historic buildings.

“The building is now threatened by neglect and vandalism,” Historic Nashville wrote at the time.

Current District 5 Councilman Scott Davis said he’d received several complaints of a homeless person living and defecating inside the building. Davis added that trash had been accumulating on the interior and exterior, and people had complained about the building being an eyesore.

Several months ago, Walmart contacted Davis, who took office in October, about re-acquiring the building from NEON.

“Walmart was trying to get it back from NEON in order to get it back up and running — or do what the community wants to do,” Davis said.

At the time, Davis wasn’t, however, able to find a representative from NEON to discuss signing the building over. He said he contacted the secretary of state to see about getting the nonprofit dissolved, so that Walmart could take action.

Brooks, who is listed on the deed, said she hasn’t been involved with NEON in several years. Her husband, Marcellus Brooks, was the most recent president of the organization, but health reasons halted his involvement.

But after years of failed planning, a historical building is gone — and it might be up to Walmart to clear the rubble.

4 Comments on this post:

By: Left-of-Local on 12/5/11 at 10:07

Someone needs to be investigating Walmart for arson. Just sayin'.

By: SRJ on 12/5/11 at 10:35

The building is nothing more than a homeless hotel. The money that was invested in 2007 was a complete waste. East Nashville has enough abandoned buildings that end up as safe havens for illegal activity. I have witnessed people coming and going from that place for years, Walmart should have torn the building down years ago. Another example of our tax dollars being wasted.

By: SRJ on 12/5/11 at 10:46

In response to -- Left-of-Local's comment about investigating Walmart for arson.

That has to be the most ridiculous thing, I've ever read. The building is inhabited by a group of homeless people. The fire was most likely started by a person trying to stay warm. Last Thursday night was a pretty cold night.

By: Left-of-Local on 12/5/11 at 1:44

Point remains. Walmart is not to be trusted. Consulted any historic Indian burial data in West Nashville lately? Ok then.

Walmart = evil.