Layer by layer, demolition workers are unwrapping history inside the Dannenberg Building.
A pair of oversized S&H Green Stamps signs have been dusted off and set to the side for possible reuse in the atrium once the century-old former department store is transformed into loft apartments.
Four floors down, a row of ornate, cast-iron columns were found in a wall, forcing developers and builders to redraw plans in order to preserve the historical architecture.
Nobody knew they were in there, said Josh Andrews of ECI Contracting, the projects builder. They were in old photographs, but we thought someone had taken them out.
Once home to one of the first department stores in the Southeast, the building at the corner of Third and Poplar streets is taking on new life as the keystone project in NewTown Macons third phase of revitalizing downtown -- a $4.5 million rehab into 69 loft-style apartments, with additional retail and possibly restaurant space.
The project has been delayed since the banking crisis hit in 2008, but, due in part to a stroke of odd luck, developers have put together a financing package to get work rolling. NewTown Macon will loan $1.2 million from a $5 million bond issued by the Development Authority of Bibb County, and a $1.5 million disaster grant -- once earmarked for renovation of the former Atlantic Cotton Mills but jeopardized when fire gutted that property -- rerouted with the states approval to the Dannenberg.
State Bank will finance the rest, said developer Gene Dunwody Sr., who expects the 90,000-square-foot Dannenberg to jump-start other efforts downtown.
Its an exciting project, Dunwody said. There are a lot of folks who have been sort of hanging around, waiting to see what happens. Its been a real ordeal, too.
Officials will gather at the Dannenberg at 10 a.m. Tuesday to announce more project details, but work is under way. Construction is expected to take one year, but model apartments could be done in 60 days.
Demolition began 10 days ago, Andrews said, and crews already have filled 56 waste containers and hauled off 10 dump truck loads. More piles of rubble wait to be hauled off.
But developers and builders are mindful of the Dannenbergs history and are placing a premium on re-purposing historical and interesting items.
Weve got a load of fascinating stuff, said Tony Long, another partner in the development.
Andrews said his crews expected some historically significant finds but we started finding things that were pleasantly unexpected.
For example, the basement yielded a previously uncovered stone foundation, an old console television possibly dating back to the late 1930s or early 40s, and a sprinkler valve system patented in 1888.
Its still got pressure on it, said Larry Ballard, an ECI co-owner and project manager.
The Dannenberg was once home to the C&S Banks Crystal Palace, famous for its lobby decorated with huge chandeliers. On the upper floor, some resident might one day shower in a converted large safe, still guarded by a sticker that warns would-be safecrackers to beware of chemical warfare gas.
Ballard, a history buff, believes the sticker dates back to the days when bank robber John Dillinger terrorized the U.S. countryside.
We dont know if the sticker was just a sticker or if there was some gas in there, he said.
A Dannenberg descendent is said to have the combination.
Because the project qualifies for federal tax credits, building features must be restored to near original when possible. Developers are hoping to convince historic preservation officials to allow plaster to be removed to reveal the interior brick walls. The property is actually four separate buildings, each added at different times. In several areas where the plaster has fallen away, brightly painted partial letters are visible on the brick.
We call this Dannenberg blue, said Ballard.
Plans call for an old freight elevator to be restored and used by residents. Workers recently poured a concrete walkway connecting the building and elevator to a parking deck built by NewTown five years ago.
It might as well be a bridge from the buildings past to its future.
The Dannenberg will feature four studio apartments, 48 one-bedroom apartments and some two- and even three-bedroom units, Dunwody said. The project will be the keystone project of NewTowns new block-by-block approach to revitalization, officials said.
We look to it to be a catalyst to drive additional projects in the coming months and years, said Hal Baskin, business and real estate development director for NewTown.
An updated outside study conducted for NewTown shows downtown Macon could absorb 235 new housing units each year for five years, said Kris Hattaway, NewTown director of place. The organizations new revitalization effort aims to add 125 new units downtown, she said.
It really is a game-changer, and its going to change a lot of the atmosphere on Poplar Street, said Hattaway. Its going to have 80-plus new people living downtown.
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.