CANTON — Cherokee County is working on a deal to sell the Jones Building in downtown Canton to an Atlanta-based developer that hopes to restore the structure and help bring the city’s center back to some of its former graces.
County Manager Jerry Cooper said the county is finalizing a purchase agreement with Westbridge Partners to purchase the downtown Canton landmark and former county administrative building for $1.8 million.
For the deal to be finalized, the purchase agreement must be approved by the Board of Commissioners, Cooper said. So far, Westbridge and Cherokee County — through Cooper — have each signed off on a letter of intent, which details specifics for the purchase of the historic building, which the county purchased from the Jones family in the mid-1980s.
As part of the deal, Cherokee County will pay for the removal of the stucco facade on the building to reveal the brick and wood-framed windows underneath. Cooper said the Board of Commissioners will consider bids for the removal in August.
Chris Faussemagne, founder of Westbridge Partners, said getting down to the brick below the facade is important for the project to be approved as a historic preservation tax incentive project, like other restorations they’ve completed in Atlanta.
Should the building not be approved for tax breaks, though, Westbridge will likely proceed in the same manner in its restoration, he said.
“To be clear, that is what our initial plan is,” Faussemagne said. “We’ve done projects before where we’ll start out and look at that plan, and perhaps it’s not the best way to approach. It really won’t change how we develop it per say.”
Getting rid of the facade is also important for the looks of the often-complained-about relic of downtown Canton.
“As it sits today, it may not be the best looking building in downtown Canton,” Faussemagne said. “I think once you peel back what’s there, it’s really going to add to the urban fabric of the downtown area.”
Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood also said renovating the building could add to downtown.
“I’d really like to see that building utilized. It could really be a focal point for all of downtown,” said Hobgood, who was the sole Cherokee County commissioner when the county purchased the building for a little more than $1 million.
Faussemagne said Westbridge plans to renovate the building and make it a multi-tenant, mixed-use facility with retail, office space and a restaurant on the ground floor.
These mixed applications of the space of the 40,000 square-foot former mercantile store could help downtown Canton see redevelopment and a return to its former bustle, he said.
“When I look at downtown Canton I think there’s a lot of opportunity in the existing buildings and the urban footprint,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why downtown Canton can’t have the same activity that a lot of people see in Woodstock.”
“I’d love to see mix use in there, particularly,” he said. “That’d be great.”
Faussemagne said renovations could start in late 2013 or early 2014, if the deal goes through.
Although construction on the building — which spans the width of an entire block — could cause congestion in downtown, Hobgood said the city would find a way to manage.
“A little inconvenience to me is going to be worth it when they get that one fixed up. I’m sure we’d be able to work around that somehow,” he said. “It’ll be a real shot in the arm for downtown. There’s no doubt about that.”