Chris Faussemagne, founder of Westbridge Partners, said Thursday the company and Cherokee County have agreed to cancel the $1.8 million transaction because of delays in getting the building approved for historic preservation tax credits.
“We had anticipated redeveloping the project using historic tax credits,” Faussemagne said, adding that indecision from the Internal Revenue Service delayed that process. “Based on our inability to capitalize the deal in a timely manner, the county and Westbridge mutually agreed that the county would seek alternate plans for redevelopment for the building.”
Cherokee County Manager Jerry Cooper said although Westbridge is out, there are some other prospects to purchase the former county administration building.
“There are other similar entities that have expressed interest,” Cooper said. “I will be meeting with them in the next week or two.”
Cooper added the county wouldn’t be opposed to re-entering talks with Westbridge when the IRS does make a decision.
Westbridge had intended to repurpose the turn-of-the-century former mercantile store as a mixed-use facility with commercial and business space with a restaurant on the ground floor.
It was an ambitious overhaul project which many felt would give downtown Canton the shot in the arm it needs to return to its former days as a place of commerce and bustle.
Also, as part of the deal, Cherokee County agreed to spend $200,000 to remove the outdated stucco facade from the building which was intended to be reimbursed by Westbridge. That project, which revealed the original brick and wooden windows underneath, was completed in early October.
“We took some risk there,” said Commissioner Harry Johnston on Thursday. “It’s backfired on us a little bit. But when we discussed it earlier, we generally agreed that the risk was low. It really wasn’t any wasted money.”
Johnston, who represents Post 1, which includes downtown Canton, said the money wasn’t wasted, because “In the end, that’s something that had to done anyway.”
But Johnston said now the facade has come down, some issues with the outside of the building have been revealed and need to be repaired. Those repairs would be mostly on the windows and a ledge around the second floor, the commissioner said.
“We hope that’s not too expensive,” Johnston said. “Having gone this far, now we have to go a little further.”
Canton Downtown Development Authority Chairperson Wanda Roach said she was “very disappointed” to hear the news.
“This particular company does such a fantastic job in their development of historic space like that,” Roach said. “They keep the historic aspects.”
But all may not be lost, she said.
“Fortunately, we’re on the right track with taking off the facade and making improvements,” Roach said. “I think the attractiveness of downtown hopefully will bring another buyer to the table soon.”