Threefoot Building in 2009
Location of Threefoot Building in Mississippi
|Architect||Claude H. Lindsley, principal architect; Frank Fort, associate architect; Threefoot Realty Co.|
|Architectural style||Art Deco|
|NRHP Reference #||79003408|
|Added to NRHP||December 18, 1979|
|Designated USMS||July 10, 2008|
The Threefoot Building is a historic building located in downtown Meridian, Mississippi. The building is the tallest building in the city, standing 16 stories tall. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 18, 1979, under the Meridian Multiple Property Submission, and it was listed as a Mississippi Landmark in 2008. It was built in 1929 as Meridian's Art Deco Center but is now abandoned. The site was added to the America's Most Endangered Places in 2010.
The 16-story brick structure is named after the Threefoot family, Jewish-German immigrants who changed their name from Dreyfuss ("three foot" in German) to better reflect their new American home. Abraham Threefoot began to make a name for the family in the late 1860s. He owned a grocery store on 25th Avenue in mid-1870, but it is not clear if this is the same store that was located at the corner of 4th Street and 25th Avenue under what would later become the Grand Opera House. The business moved at least once to a different location on the same street in 1884, but sources are unclear if there were three locations or two. The business was taken over by Abraham's sons–H. Marshall, Kutcher, and Lewis, collectively known as the "Threefoot Brothers"–after his death.
By 1910, sales at Threefoot and Sons exceeded $100,000 per year. When the YMCA building was being constructed, the builders ran into financial trouble, but the Threefoot Brothers donated $35,000 to the project, allowing construction to continue. Just before the beginning of the Great Depression, the company built the Threefoot Building in downtown Meridian on 22nd Avenue adjacent to the Marks-Rothenberg Department Store and the Grand Opera House. The building was finished in 1929, shortly before the stock market crash. A combination of shaky finances and the onset of the Great Depression caused the family's business to cease operation, but the building continued under different ownership as an office building for several decades. After Meridian's first mall was built in the 1970s, the city began to focus less on economic development downtown, so the building's tenants began to evacuate. By the 1990s, the building had been mostly abandoned.
As a testament to the building's influence on the city, the city began in 2002 to hold an annual showcase of art by local artists. The city named the showcase the "Threefoot Arts Festival" in honor of the historic building. The festival was held each year in October at Dumont Plaza, located two blocks down from the building, and on 4th and 5th Streets between 22nd and 23rd avenues. The festival began at 9 A.M. and lasted until 6 P.M. each year. Along with art exhibitions from state and regional artists, the festival also featured a variety of live music and entertainment throughout the day as well as food and beverages sold by local companies and organizations. Retail stores and businesses throughout the city helped to promote the festival by offering special deals and discounts to members of the festival. Admission was free, so an accurate count of attendees is difficult to achieve, but annual turnout is estimated to have been 3,000 to 5,000.
Since 2011 the festival has been held on the first weekend of April on 7th Street between 23rd and 25th Avenues and on the lawn in front of Meridian City Hall. It includes art contests for children in grade school (hosted at the Meridian Museum of Art), access for children to try out musical instruments provided by the Meridian Symphony Orchestra, performances by local bands, and stands promoting local restaurants.
In August 2006, the city purchased the building from Alabama developer Howard Robbins for $1.2 million with the expectation that it would be renovated by a developer from Jackson. No developer from Jackson ever seriously looked into renovating the building, but Historic Restoration Inc. (HRI), a New Orleans developer known for restoring the King Edward Hotel in Jackson, took up the project in 2009.
HRI planned to transform the building into a 125-room Courtyard by Marriott. The project was green lighted because of the construction of a new parking garage in downtown Meridian, which had gone up in 2005 to provide parking for events at the Riley Center. For years the lack of parking availability had halted progress on the Threefoot Building's renovation, but the parking garage would provide an adequate amount. There was also a growing need for support operations for the Riley Center, and a ballroom, conference facilities, and hotel rooms in the Threefoot Building would have fulfilled that need. The renovation would have cost $55 million, and the city would have backed $14 million of it. After much debate, HRI reached an agreement with then mayor John Robert Smith and the city council in January 2009.
Mayor Cheri Barry took office in July 2009 and worked to undo the agreement. Stating that she saw problems in the plan, she asked Mississippi Heritage Trust Director David Preziosi if it was possible to remove the building from the National Register of Historic Places in order to make it easier to demolish. Preziosi advised Barry not to have the property delisted and gave her the names of people she could talk to about funding opportunities for the building. The Meridian Star reported that the people suggested to Barry had not been contacted as of June 2010. At the same time, HRI was asking the city to help complete funding of the project by acquiring grants from the state. Barry, however, refused to ask the state, claiming that the economy was too stressed to ask for money that wasn't essential to the city's function.
After a long controversy, HRI's agreement with the city was terminated in late 2009 due to lack of support from Barry and the need for various drainage repairs. Because of the termination the city was forced to reimburse HRI for the $1 million already put into the project. In a prepared statement, Barry claimed that the city and HRI would "look down the road for future projects and possibly even resume the Threefoot Project under different circumstances and different finances."
In June 2010, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) announced that the building was to be placed on its list of America's Most Endangered Historic Places. In October of the same year, the city accepted a $150,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) for a study of the building. The study will focus on the foundation of the building and determine what would have to be done to rehabilitate it. The city also hired Watkins Development at a cost of $10,000 per month to focus on developing not only the Threefoot Building but the rest of downtown and all of Meridian. Watkins Development – like HRI – was involved in the renovation of Jackson's King Edward Hotel.
The study was completed in mid-2012, finding that the foundation of the building is sound, but the upper floors are being subjected to daily weather because of blown out windows, crumbling bricks, and other structural problems. A local group of private citizens calling themselves the Threefoot Preservation Society met in early June 2013 to discuss a future for the building. Outgoing mayor Cheri Barry at the time said that the city was looking for a private entrepreneur willing to take over the project because the city didn't have the money to renovate it or to tear it down.
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