For three years now, the city of Greenville has been negotiating for some of the most prime real estate in the city to keep its historic Augusta Road fire station as close as possible to its current location.
The station — nearly 70 years old and its architecture reminiscent of a time when Greenville was in its post World War II-era textile heyday — sits prominently at the corner of Augusta and Faris roads and serves as a visual representation of Greenville’s history along a desirable commercial corridor.
The conundrum: How do you keep a station in the same location where you’re saddled with a building too antiquated to renovate for modern service but at the same time trying to avoid tearing down?
The answer is in a land swap, which the city recently approved and will involve building a new station just off the corner while handing the old station over to a developer for renovation into another use.
In the deal, the city agreed to a lease agreement that allows it to operate the fire station in the current building for free for two years, after which it would have to pay rent.
In the meantime, a new fire station will be built yards away on an acre of land cobbled together by the city through purchase and trade.
Uncertainty with old fire station building
The owner, Greenville-based Cothran Properties, hasn’t decided on a use, a company manager said.
“We won’t take possession of the property until the city builds and occupies the new fire station,” Weston Blackwood, Cothran’s senior commercial and asset manager, told The Greenville News. “We are still evaluating options, and our plans our not finalized yet.”
The old fire station building isn’t completely safe from demolition, though there is some protection.
The deal specifies that the developer must wait ten years before any potential demolition.
The old and new fire station will be part of a planned development that Blackwood said will be called Augusta @ Faris, which will be a separate project from the renovation of a shopping center across the street that already bears the name Augusta @ Faris.
Greenville developer David Stone, who is renovating the shopping center known for the Verizon store, Moe’s Southwest Grill and the former location of Vibrant Life Yoga, said the plans involving the old and new fire stations don’t involve his project.
The motivation will be to finish within the two-year time frame, both to avoid paying rent and to get firefighters out of a building where plaster chips from the ceiling and falls in their dinner plates, Fire Chief Steve Kovalcik said.
“The motivation is to get the guys out of it because it’s falling apart,” he said.
It’s uncertain what will happen with the fire station building once the fire department moves.
Modern station wanted in same area
The current fire station is cramped and aging, but the new station won’t be exactly what the fire department would typically hope for in size, Kovalcik said.
The old station uses two bays where newer stations have three bays, he said.
However, the city had to balance its desire to stay as close to the original location as possible with the cost to do so, so the new station will have two bays, he said.
“At the end of the day, we’ll end up with a station similar to the station that’s sitting there because we’re very restricted by the size of the property,” Kovalcik said. “We have absolutely no alternative.”
Moving the station even just down the road would throw off the coordination of service areas as they’re currently drawn and force the department to realign districts where investments have already been made, such as the new Verdae station, he said.
The proximity of service helps insurance ratings within a district, saving homeowners money.
“It really, really would negatively impact us to get off that corner,” Kovalcik said. “It’s blessing we’re able to serve from that location long-term.”
The deal to keep the location virtually the same involves intricate trades of land and services.
Three years ago, the city bought a home on a quarter-acre lot on Faris Road for $380,000 with the intent of building a fire station. The lot is sandwiched between two other properties owned by KOB Enterprises and Augusta Road Holdings.
In the deal, the city will take over one of KOB’s quarter-acre lots furthest from the intersection in exchange for the current fire station, which sits on property just under a quarter-acre in size.
In exchange for two years of using the current station free of the $2,900-a-month rent, the city will construct a dumpster pad for the planned development. In addition, the city will contribute up to $78,000 in lighting improvements on the properties for the old and new stations.
East Stone Avenue station will be next
The city has selected a design firm and is currently negotiating a contract, Kovalcik said. The cost to construct the new station is estimated to be about $5 million.
The city intends to have the new station operating in spring 2020,
[Kovalcik] said. Meanwhile, the similarly aged East Stone Avenue fire station faces similar space and condition issues and will be next on the list, Kovalcik said.
The East Stone station at the intersection with East Park Avenue lies in a floodway and is periodically inundated with water, as much as three feet during a recent summer storm, he said.
However, the difficulty with land won’t be as big of a hurdle in keeping the station near the intersection.
The city owns property all along East Park that it can use when funds for a new station become available.
The old station would be difficult to remodel, Kovalcik said, because of the flood restrictions.