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Forsyth County completes courthouse sale, library purchase

A developer from Richmond has purchased the old Forsyth County Courthouse and plans to convert it to apartment units while preserving the building's historic character. (Walt Unks/Journal)

A developer from Richmond has purchased the old Forsyth County Courthouse and plans to convert it to apartment units while preserving the building's historic character. (Walt Unks/Journal)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Forsyth County officials closed two property deals on the same day this week — one that had been in the works for several months and another for several years.

County Manager Dudley Watts said the county completed its sale Tuesday of the old Forsyth County Courthouse to Clachan Properties LLC of Richmond, Va., and also purchased the Reynolda Manor Branch Library building.

“It’s great news on both counts,” Commissioner Dave Plyler said.

The Forsyth County commissioners agreed in 2012 to sell the old courthouse to Clachan, which plans to convert it to apartment units while preserving the building’s historic character. The sale was delayed as developers worked to get a local historic landmark designation and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places to access tax credits for the building rehabilitation.

The commissioners agreed in October to purchase the Reynolda Library facility, which it had been leasing for more than 10 years.

“Both of those transactions are going to help with the operational budget,” Watts said.

Commissioner Bill Whiteheart noted: “It almost looks like we agreed to sell one and buy one at the same time, but it was a culmination of events that had been planned for some period of time.”

Historic character

Clachan Properties bought the old courthouse property for $700,000. That money has not been earmarked for a specific purpose, Watts said.

Clachan also paid the county about $20,000 in fees the past few years to extend the contract period, Watts said.

The county had been spending about $60,000 a year to maintain the building.

It now will become a 58-unit apartment building with one commercial space that could potentially house a bar or restaurant, according to Herb Coleman, the CEO of Clachan Properties. Work could begin on the property as early as April 1, he said, with the goal of completing renovations by the end of the year. Tenants could move in by spring 2015.

“They’ll have to do those renovations and repurpose that building in a way that retains the historic character,” Watts said.

The company will preserve one of the courtrooms — which could be used as amenity space — and put apartment units in the other.

Coleman said the units will have less of an industrial feel than those in the Winston Factory Lofts, another one of Clachan’s projects.

The county has not used the old courthouse in about 10 years. The courthouse was built in 1926 on the site of earlier courthouses. Court functions moved out of the building in 1974, and the remaining county offices left in 2004.

Watts said the county did not have a use that fit the building, but the property sits on a prime piece of land — surrounded by Main, Liberty and Fourth streets.

“That building’s been vacant for a long time, and it’s vacant in a part of town where there’s a lot of interest and momentum and economic activity. … I think the commissioners feel good about doing something to promote all that business activity and at the same time helping our county budget out some,” Watts said.

Plyler said the building is in need of repairs and there were times over the years where he worried that the county would have to tear it down.

“Preservationists wanted the courthouse to stay, and I’m delighted it’s going to stay,” Plyler said.

There are a few monuments on the property, including a Confederate statue whose future was debated in 2012. Watts said those monuments are now protected by easements. The county will also keep the property’s time capsule, which is set to be opened in 2049.

Better to own than rent

The county purchased the Reynolda Manor Branch Library from Covington-Wilson Inc. for $994,800 — the property’s listed tax value — using leftover funds from the sale of beds at the Springwood Care Center in 2012.

“There’s an economic advantage to owning that building,” Watts said.

The county will no longer have to pay rent on the facility, and commissioners said this will save the county money over time. The county had been leasing the property for about $132,000 a year.

Any repairs will become part of the normal capital maintenance schedule, Deputy County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt said.

“We have acquired a permanent home for the Reynolda Library which hopefully will serve the citizens of Forsyth County for well into the next 40 or 50 years,” Whiteheart said.

Marissa Joyce, the secretary of Friends of the Reynolda Manor Library, was president of the board last year when patrons worried that potential budget cuts could force the closure of the library

Now the county owns the building, which used to be a movie theater but was remodeled in 1998 to house the library.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Joyce said.

She said she remembers getting her first library card in that branch, and she looks forward to her kids doing the same.

“It’s a great branch with wonderful staff,” Joyce said.

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