Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Miracle on 2nd Street

318 2nd St. before . . .
and after . . .

Before you read further, look at  the webpage on  Facebook for 318 2nd St. Street (click here). What has happened architecturally at 318 2nd St. is not just a renovatation, it is a remarkable transformation, if not a miracle, especially in the interior. Going against the American grain, in which appearance is everything, the exterior of the new 318 is simple and unprepossessing. Contrast it in that respect with the Marting building, which is really three old buildings with a phony, pretentious soulless façade hiding a dark, dank interior.

The owners, Gary and Tim,  have turned the the former crack house into a state-of-the-art student residence that makes the dormitories in Hatcherville look like Hoovervilles, and they have done it, if what they told me is accurate, without the kind of public assistance, tax breaks, and  financial guarantees that Neal Hatcher squeezes out of local public officials, who are his political puppets. 

The history of  the building at  318 2nd St. reflects the history of Portsmouth in the last half century when hundreds of  buildings fell into disrepair, and ended up like orphans after a plague, the plague of drugs. For a while, the way a pimp might corral  desperate down-and-out dollar prostitutes, Shane DeSimone had bought 318 2nd St. from a Kentucky bank along with a number of  other abandoned Portsmouth buildings.  For a previous post on DeSimone, click here. But DeSimone could not keep up with the payments on the buildings, declared bankruptcy, and the city was stuck with his buildings, including 318 2nd St., which had been a crack house where drug deals went down at the back door day and night.The neighbors complained and the city condemned the building, which meant it was destined to be torn down. But like a prisoner on death row, it had to wait its turn before it could be demolished, and there were lots of others in line ahead of it. That’s when Gary and Tim bought the building for a couple of thousand dollars with the aim of raising it, like Lazarus, from the dead.

It would take many more thousands of dollars and a lot of work, but in  an incredible display of entrepreneurial  daring they took the risk. Some people thought they were loco,   but they displayed just the kind of entrepreneurial, competitive spirit that Portsmouth needs.  They hope that the members of one of SSU’s athletic teams might be tenants, say the women’s basketball team, because the building is ideal for a group of students who have bonded together, as athletic teams tend to do.   In the deal Hatcher has with SSU, he cannot lose, there is no risk, because the university guarantees that if the occupancy rate in Hatcherville residence halls falls below a certain percent, he will be reimbursed by the university. (For more on Hatcherville, click here.) Corruption and non-competitive sweetheart deals are the norm when it comes to buying and selling property in Portsmouth, as it was in the notorious sale of the Marting building.  Gary and Tim have no such sweetheart deal. But they have heart and imagination. They have a dream, a beautiful dream, and it looks like the dream is becoming a reality.