Witt: Repurposing better than demolition

It’s good to see Traditional Bank has purchased the property of the former BB&T bank at the corner of West Broadway and Maple streets.

This means a usable building in downtown will continue to see use and utility, rather than sitting empty or worse, being demolished to make way for something else.

Too often in this country there is a trend to simply destroy perfectly usable structures to build something new, even when the existing building may have many years or decades of useful life remaining.

It is not unusual to find buildings in England and Europe which are still serving useful purposes after 1,000 years or more.

An example of this trend is the demolition of the Capital Plaza Office Tower in Frankfort. The 28-story office complex was built in 1972, a mere 56 years ago, and should have had much life left.

Unfortunately, the building had a multitude of problems from the day it was completed, and possible renovation to make it suitable for new uses apparently proved to be more expensive than simply removing the building and replacing it.

At least that is usually the excuse for demolishing a building.

Far too many buildings are subject to demolition by neglect, such as when landlords refuse to re-invest in a piece of property in order to keep it functioning effectively. When mechanical and structural elements are neglected over an extended period, the expense of bringing those elements up to current standards becomes too burdensome.

Fortunately, downtown Winchester is experiencing a good many instances in which older buildings are being purchased by conscientious individuals, given new life and new purpose, and placed back on the tax rolls as viable businesses.

Soon Winchester will see a long-neglected building — the old brick building on East Broadway Street which served many years as an electrical shop and then became a storage building for the city — restored and become a brewery.

The building immediately across the street, which houses Bargains on Broadway Café, has housed many uses over the decades, including a Kroger store, Stephenson Pontiac, a store selling stoves and other products for the home, a pharmacy and now an auction house and restaurant.

Despite being nearly 70 years old, the building has been maintained to the extent it is still a useful place to conduct business.

The historic Sphar building will eventually become a viable location for several businesses as well as a useful anchor for the north end of town.

It is good to see Traditional Bank coming downtown. The building could have been used for many other purposes (there are a number of businesses operating downtown in old bank buildings, with their vaults intact, like the Created By You at the corner of Main and Broadway streets, Jako’s Boutique at the corner of Court and Main streets, Ludwig, Blair and Bush on South Main Street, and Eklectic Alchemy at the corner of Main Street and Lexington Avenue), but it certainly lends itself to continuing use as a bank.

Someone asked on Facebook: “Do we really need another bank here?”

Well, that’s a question whose answer should come from elsewhere; a business decision.

What’s important is a perfectly useful building is not going to be given over to neglect or removal, at least for the foreseeable future.

And that’s good for downtown.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.