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Council Narrows Renwick Decision to Four Choices

The Council discussed several options for reuse or renovation of the historic Renwick Building Tuesday night.

City of Fredericksburg council members took two ideas for the renovation and reuse of the historic Renwick Building off of the table during a City Council meeting Tuesday night. 

After a work session discussion, the council decided against donating the Renwick Building to a nonprofit as well as sale of the building to a private party. 

City Manager Beverly Cameron reviewed a "Renwick Decision Model" with council members during Tuesday night's work session. The Council had drafted the three part working document the previous week, with input from city staff.

"The model provides very good background information to help frame the discussion," said Cameron. It is comprised of three parts: the goal, definition of objectives and definition of alternatives.

The goal is, according to the document, "to determine the preferred renovation and reuse strategy for Renwick." The building has housed the city's courthouse for 160 years. But once the new courthouse building is completed in 2014, there is no plan in place for the historic Renwick Building. Thus the Council's "Renwick Decision Model."

The six objectives defined in the model and listed in the order of importance given them by the Council are:

  1. Preserve an iconic historic structure.
  2. Repair and improve critical building systems of city-owned properties.
  3. Retain public ownership and use.
  4. Facilitate economic development and/or tourism.
  5. Meet long term space needs of city offices.
  6. Minimize land use that burdens parking capacity.

The six alternatives for the building as defined in the model and listed in the Council's order of importance are:

  1. Renovate for city offices and new council chamber.
  2. Lease to nonprofit (nonprofit would bear full cost of renovation).
  3. Renovate for some undetermined public use (at City expense).
  4. Lease to a nonprofit (City would renovate to "warm, lit shell).
  5. Sell to private party for redevelopment.
  6. Donate to a nonprofit.

"We've spent $35 million on a new courthouse system and a lot of other renovations," said Ward 3 Councilman Fred Howe. "We're going to hear a lot from the public if we now renovate for a council chamber," he said. "I have a personal problem with doing that, where we have taken the money and bettered ourselves.  We have a lot of needs and a lot of wants and very little money," he said.

Other members of the Council emphasized the need for discussion, study and planning at this time, including potential monetary options and priorities.

"The public should understand we have a huge commitment to preservation," said At-Large Councilwoman Kerry Devine.

"The Renwick Building is the only courthouse Renwick ever designed," said Ward 4 Councilwoman Bea Paolucci. "To sell Renwick, which is one of a kind, would be a total mistake. Total."

The Council agreed. "Unless somebody comes with a deal we cannot refuse, selling the building is off the table," said Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw.

By the end of the work session, the Council had decided to take the last two alternatives off the table: (5) Sell to private party for redevelopment; and (6) Donate to a nonprofit.

The Council directed Cameron to have staff analyze the pros and cons of the remaining alternatives, including queries to nonprofits about interest in leasing the building. The information will be presented at a subsequent meeting.

The Renwick, designed in 1852 by James Renwick, Jr., is the longest continually operated court house in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to At-Large Councilman Matt Kelly. James Renwick is renowned for many buildings in the United States. In 1846 he won the design contest or the Smithsonian Institution Building, commonly called "the Castle," in Washington, D.C. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York is considered his finest achievement. Another of his prominent buildings is the Corcoran Gallery of Art in D.C., now home to the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery.

Matthew Kelly October 10, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Selling Renwick has never been on the table. So what did we accomplish?

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