After agreeing to purchase the 112-year-old L&N Depot for $45,000 more than its last appraised value, the Decatur City Council is waiting on a new appraisal.
The council voted on the purchase Monday. Council President Gary Hammon said the purchase needed to be made quickly because a $720,000 Alabama Department of Transportation grant for the depot’s $2 million restoration hinges on the city bidding the project by Jan. 1.
Wally Inscho, the depot’s owner, originally asked for $180,000 but reduced the price to $175,000. Its appraised value, however, is $130,000.
Councilman Billy Jackson was the sole dissenter Monday. He said the $5,000 discount wasn’t enough.
“I’m pretty sure that’s still over the appraised value, unless that’s changed,” he said.
On Monday nobody at City Hall, including City Attorney Herman Marks and the Community Development department, could produce the appraisal from two years ago. Community and Economic Development Director Wally Terry did not return calls Monday until 5 p.m., at which point he said he had the appraisal, but could not release it until he had permission from Mayor Don Stanford and ALDOT, which had closed its offices by the time Terry was reached.
Property appraisals are public documents under state open records law.
Terry said the depot is being re-appraised in the hope that its value has risen since the original appraisal, which could result in bigger grants from the state. He said the appraisal would not be conducted any differently than two years ago.
“It might be more, it might be the same,” Terry said. “This is a difficult appraisal. There aren’t a lot of other depots lying around.”
Hammon said there was concern that purchasing property above its appraised value may not be legal.
“I asked Herman Marks that, and he said as long as we determine the inherent value exceeds the purchase amount, it’s OK,” Hammon said.
The “inherent value” Hammon referred to is the depot’s historical significance.
“A lot of old buildings around it have been torn down,” he said.
Inscho said the depot was appraised as a warehouse, not a historic property.
“I hate it that I’m being thought of as an opportunist for setting a price higher than the appraised price for the depot,” Inscho said. “As a warehouse, I think that’s a fair appraisal.”
Inscho said he agreed to purchase the building for $22,500 in 1983. He said his cost of keeping the depot up for 29 years exceeds his selling price, but he didn’t keep detailed records that would document his expenses.
He said he spent “substantially over $100,000 in repairs and maintenance.” He said he had the roof repaired, installed new gutters and made structural repairs. He also had windows taken out, preserved and stored.
Additionally, he said, he spent several hundred dollars to secure the building each time it was broken into. He said there were 40 to 60 break-ins during the time he owned the building.
He said he checked on the building every week or two for 29 years.
“When we bought the building 29 years ago, we bought it to save it for the city,” Inscho said. “We thought it had historical significance.”
Athens State University history professor Sean Busick said train depots are often historically significant because they were once the primary means of transportation through the South and carried precious cotton shipments.
“Any towns that didn’t have a railroad depot in the mid-to-late 19th century withered and died,” he said.
The restoration will be paid for with the ALDOT grant, $90,000 in matching funds by the city, a $486,000 loan and commitments of $550,000 from Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority — $200,000 up front and $350,000 during seven years — and a promise to raise at least $200,000 in private donations.
Lead paint must be removed and the building repainted, and the clay tile roof refurbished.
New parking in front of the depot will be added, and an unused city parking lot across the street will be improved with lighting and security cameras.
Decatur police’s traffic division will be moved out of its cramped quarters at City Hall and into one side of the depot. A transportation museum will likely be put into the remaining space.
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