After several years of attempting to turn an almost 90-year-old former gas station and auto repair shop into something else, Villa Rica officials have decided to demolish the former Butterball’s auto garage.
The City Council voted Tuesday (Jan. 11) to allow City Manager Tom Barber to spend no more than $40,000 to demolish the building, which the city had hoped would become a Visitor’s Center and possible incubator site for new retail outlets.
City officials say they had no choice but to raze the building, even though the city has spent thousands to purchase, repair, and study the building for potential uses. And while the building has proved to be structurally unsound, city leaders say that the city’s investment in what is one of Villa Rica’s prime pieces of real estate will yet pay off for the fast-growing city.
The former Butterballs Auto Repair building at 121 W. Bankhead Highway, had been an eyesore for years, despite its previous history of being one of the first service stations to be located on Highway 78 in Carroll County. It is believed to have been built around 1932, the same time Highway 78 had been paved from Carrollton to Villa Rica as part of the national Bankhead Highway project, which itself began in the 1920s.
Citizens had long complained about the declined state of the building, located as it was on the entrance to downtown. In 2016, however, a plan to do something with the building materialized with the RSVP Master Plan, which involved a survey of city residents asking them to envision what they would like downtown Villa Rica to look like.
Among the visions was transforming the building and an adjacent, 1950’s-era duplex into a visitor’s center. While other aspects of the plan were stalled due to lack of funding, the city moved forward with the visitor’s center concept.
In March 2016, the city purchased the property for $98,452. Council members were told at the time the site had an appraised value of $185,000. The project was later turned over to the Downtown Development Authority, which then invested $72,000 to renovate the roof of the aging structure.
In 2019, the council approved a $32,850 contract with a design consultant to determine, among other projects, what purpose the building might serve.
In the years since the city has paid various contractors to demolish the interior of the building and remove some exterior fixtures and do an asbestos survey. All told, the city invested some $199,645 in the building.
In recent months, with the building stripped down to its bare bricks, city leaders say it has been discovered that the building was not structurally sound, thus prompting Tuesday’s action by the council.
During a work session earlier Tuesday, Mayor Gil McDougal told council members that while the building may soon be gone, the city will retain ownership of the prime commercial lot. Pointing out that he was not on the council when the project was greenlighted, McDougal recalled that he said at the time that “in 50 years, you will not look back and regret that the city bought this … we will make it something that we can be proud of.”
Ward 3 Councilmember Leslie McPherson also noted that she didn’t think it was a mistake for the city to have purchased the property, adding that demolishing the building did not mean that the city had abandoned the idea of a visitor’s welcome center.
“Whenever the DDA or the city can obtain some property, we have complete control over what goes there. And so, it allows us to help the historic downtown develop in the vision of what the city would like to see.”
Barber will now seek bids to demolish the building and nearby duplex and report back to the council during its February meeting. No timetable has been set for the demolition.