On a hill behind the parking garage that took its place, the Alexander Black House is sitting on stilts, waiting to be put back to use.
The house, named after the prominent Blacksburg businessman who built it in 1897, was in one of the town’s original 16 blocks. Black’s grandfather originally owned the land now occupied by the downtown area.
Black’s family lived in the house until 1935. Following his death, the Queen Anne Victorian-style house was used as a funeral home until 2002.
When the Kent Square development was planned, the Blacksburg Town Council approved a parking garage. The council then bought the Black House and moved it across Draper Road to its current location behind the Tech Bookstore.
Town officials plan for the house to hold the proposed Blacksburg Museum, but a restoration of the building has not been completed.
A campaign to raise money for the project was a goal for the 2009-10 fiscal year. Earlier estimates set the price tag for the restoration at more than $400,000.
Virginia Tech political science professor and local government scholar Karen Hult said the delay does not reflect well on the town.
“The town either hasn’t had the resources or put on its priority list doing something with the buildings that can’t be used until more effort is taken with them,” Hult said.
While the Black House and early African-American social center Odd Fellows Hall figure into future town plans, other historical buildings sit vacant. High costs of bringing them up to code and town historical standards ward off potential developers.
Historical buildings in Blacksburg cannot be demolished or relocated by owners without a long process. If the owner is denied a Certificate of Appropriateness by the Blacksburg Historic Design and Review Board to demolish the building, he may appeal to the town council.
If the council denies the appeal, owners may file a statement with the town’s Planning and Engineering Department giving the property’s sale price, appraisal and listing date.
Depending on the price of the property, an owner would have to wait between three months and a year before gaining the right to demolish the historical building.
Any site with a sale price of more than $90,000 requires a 12-month waiting period.
Hult said the lengthy process has stopped many historical sites from becoming locations for potentially beneficial developments.
“That raises the issue then of needing to reopen the issue of whether every building that’s old needs to be kept for historical purposes,” Hult said.
Still, some other historical buildings are simply set back by ownership battles.
“The buildings downtown, at least as I understand it, some of them are in ownership kinds of messes. If that can get resolved, I think as the economy comes back, those could be seen as relatively attractive office space,” Hult said.
A potential ordinance could require owners to get a redevelopment plan approved by the council prior to demolishing a historical building. The council will vote on the ordinance at its Dec. 8 meeting.
Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam said many potential owners do not have the funds to bring the aging buildings up to state code standards.
“The problem that we run into with older buildings is the retrofitting and how to make it work,” Rordam said. “We go by the same building code the rest of the state goes by, so where you run into problems is a building built in 1890 is not necessarily up to code.”
He said the town has considered incentive plans to encourage businesses to open, but safety improvements must be made before businesses can occupy the buildings.
“It’s a delicate balance because you want to encourage businesses to open, and we have incentive plans that we’re working on to help them defer the costs, we have facade improvements that we have grants and loan funds for, so we’re doing what we can,” Rordam said. “But that the same time, our primary duty is to safety.”