Community, Local Politics

Gardendale City Leaders Spent Big to Preserve Historic Building – What Will They do Next?

In 2013, the City of Gardendale purchased the old Lighthouse Building, the former church and oldest building in Gardendale, from Gardendale First Baptist Church.

While the purchase price was $85,600, another $219,073.34 has been poured into the building. The total expense to date is $304,673.34.

The Mayor and City Council, at the time, approved the purchase of the old church building in an attempt to preserve the historical building for its historical meaning to Gardendale.

It soon became apparent that the Lighthouse Building needed substantial work done in the form of an asbestos issue. $19,453 was spent on asbestos removal and services related to the removal.

At the same time the city leaders decided to remove a wing of the building and also repair the roof. This added another $44,296.10 in spend for demo and repair.

Later, it was decided that the parking lot to the building needed repaving, so in 2016, another $95,190 was spent by the city between advertising for the bids on the project and the actual repaving work.

Over time, various amounts were spent on miscellaneous supplies, electrical work, a project to make the building ADA compliant and window repair. This totaled another $44,534.24.

Seven years after purchase, in 2020, the city leaders decided that they needed to attempt to market the building for lease.

During this process, it was discovered that the Lighthouse Building had even more asbestos and so another $15,600 was spent to remove the asbestos. This required that the inside of the old church be stripped down to the studs.

It is admirable that our city leaders wanted to purchase the building as Gardendale’s oldest building and attempt to preserve it. But to say the Lighthouse Building has been a taxpayer money pit is evident.

Gardendale First Baptist Church could have preserved the building for the historical value to the church and to Gardendale, but it didn’t.

So, the City of Gardendale stepped in and not only paid $85,600 for it, but then poured another $219,000 into it.

Now the dilemma for the Current Mayor and City Council is to make tough a decision about what to do now that $304k of taxpayer money has been spent preserving this building. The money has been spent. That can’t be undone. The decision now is does the city lease, sell or do something else with the Lighthouse Building?

Today, the building is “for lease.” Leasing the building has been challenging. While hundreds of thousands have been spent on renovations and repairs, the exterior is still that of an old church building and will be challenging in attracting a business to lease the building.

The building could be sold outright. If the city can sell and break even on the $304k, then the taxpayers break even, and Gardendale still has the historical building in place housing a business.

Except it may not go that way with a sell. It is very likely that a buyer of the Lighthouse Building may be interested in the property and its location, but not the building. In that case, they would own the building and have every right to level it and start over with a new building.

There goes the oldest building in Gardendale and Gardendale loses a part of its history and its historical meaning in the process.

It’s not an easy call to make.

A City source tells The Gardendale News that the only remaining expense for the building are utilities and basic upkeep. The money pit part of preserving the Lighthouse Building is, seemingly, over.

With only utilities and light upkeep as the current expense, what if this Mayor and City Council made a different decision?

Wouldn’t it be a good thing to dedicate the old church building to Gardendale’s senior population?

Gardendale has a wonderful and important Senior Center. It is a stones throw from the Gardendale Civic Center. But it is small in size. There could be more events, activities, dances and more for our important senior residents in Gardendale by making the Lighthouse Building an additional Senior Center.

That decision would eliminate any chance that the building would be torn down through a sale and the cost to the Gardendale taxpayer would be minimal now that it has been repaired and renovated.

I find it likely that Gardendale residents would embrace the expenses of utilities and light upkeep if it was to give our seniors a wonderful place to have more interaction and activities.

It’s time for our city leaders to make a definitive decision.

Selling the building and recouping the $304k may be the best financial decision to make. Perhaps it fits into the new theme of our forward progress in Gardendale.

But giving the building to our seniors who are old enough to truly appreciate its history and significance may just be the right one to make.