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 an historic office building located in downtown Meridian, Mississippi. Designed by Claude H. Lindsley and completed in 1929 in the Art Deco style, the building at 16 stories is still the tallest in the city. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 18, 1979, under the Meridian Multiple Property Submission of buildings contributing to downtown. In 2008 it was recognized by the state as a Mississippi Landmark.
The building has been mostly abandoned since the 1990s, following suburban development's drawing off tenants. In 2002 the city started the annual Threefoot Arts Festival, naming it after the city's downtown icon. Plans for redevelopment foundered with changes in city administration in 2009, resulting in the National Trust for Historic Preservation listing the building in 2010 in its annual group of "America's Most Endangered Places." A group of citizens formed the Threefoot Preservation Society in 2013 and have hosted events to increase public interest in the building and support for its renovation.
The 16-story brick structure was developed by and named for the Threefoot family, German-Jewish immigrants who arrived in the mid-19th century and anglicized their name from Dreyfuss ("three foot" in German) to join 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. It may have been his grocery that was located at the corner of 4th Street and 25th Avenue on the ground floor of what was known as the Grand Opera House. The grocery moved at least once to a different location on the same street in 1884, but sources are unclear if it had three sites or two. The grocery 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. It was the tallest building in the city and admired as a symbol of the city's growth. The office 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.
The building operated as an office building under different ownership for several decades. Demographic changes followed suburban development, stimulated by highway construction. After Meridian's first suburban mall was built in the 1970s, continued development outside the city drew off tenants and other businesses. By the 1990s, the Threefoot Building had been mostly abandoned.
In 2002 the city started to hold an annual showcase of art by local artists, naming it the "Threefoot Arts Festival" in honor of the historic building's status as an icon of downtown and indirectly the Threefoot family, who had contributed much to the city. The festival was held annually in October at Dumont Plaza, located two blocks 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.
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, but the city could attract no regional interest. 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 hotel. The project was green lighted because of the construction of a new parking garage in downtown Meridian, which was constructed in 2005 to provide parking for events at the Riley Center. For years the lack of parking had delayed development of the Threefoot Building, but the parking garage corrected that problem. In addition, there was recognition of the growing need for facilities to support events at the Riley Center. Developing a ballroom, conference facilities, and hotel rooms in the Threefoot Building would have satisfied that demand. The renovation would have cost $55 million, and the city would have backed $14 million of it, seeing that investment in downtowns was paying off in increased investment. After much debate, HRI reached an agreement in January 2009 with mayor John Robert Smith and the city council.
In July 2009 newly elected Mayor Cheri Barry took office 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 against having the property delisted and offered her names of people to talk to about funding options for the building. The Meridian Star reported that, as of June 2010, the mayor's office had not contacted the people suggested to Barry. 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 the city had terminated, it was required 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 included the building on its annual list of America's Most Endangered Historic Places. In October 2010, the city accepted a $150,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) for a study of the building. The study was to focus on what would have to be done to rehabilitate the building for use. 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 building assessment study was completed in mid-2012, finding that the foundation of the building was sound, but the upper floors were being subjected to daily weather because of blown out windows, crumbling bricks, and other structural problems. A local group of private citizens, identifying as the Threefoot Preservation Society, formed in early June 2013 to discuss a future for the building. 
Since 2013, the Threefoot Preservation Society has held weekly cleanups of the building. It also hosted the 84th Anniversary celebration of the building in April 2014. For the first time in years, the city opened the first floor of Threefoot Building to the public. Special guest included Dr. Henry Threefoot and his family. Aside from the celebration, the Threefoot Preservation Society made information on the history of the building available to the public. 
On Saturday, April 4, 2015, the Threefoot Preservation Society hosted the Threefoot Building's 85th Anniversary, inviting the public to come out in support of the Threefoot Building's history and preservation.
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