FORT VALLEY -- A vacant Coca-Cola bottling plant some Fort Valley residents consider historic will be demolished, and a Wendy’s restaurant will be built in its place, according to a Monday City Council vote.
“It’s an abomination,” said Jo Anne Dankel, a strong opposer to the demolition. “They (council) sold out.”
The council voted 4-0 at an hourlong, special-called meeting to allow business owner Danny Strickland to go ahead with plans to build a Wendy’s at the corner of North Camellia Boulevard and Taylors Mill Road, ending residents’ push to save the building.
“I was excited,” Strickland said after the meeting. “I thought, truly, that should be the outcome.”
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Strickland said he has not set a demolition date yet. Councilwoman Beth Collins abstained from the vote and Councilman Jimmy Barnes was absent.
City Council called the meeting to vote on Strickland’s appeal of a Historic Preservation Commission decision to deny him a certificate for appropriateness, a document required for changes of property within the city’s historic districts.
However, City Attorney Charles Jones told council the building isn’t officially in the Fort Valley Downtown and Railroad National Register Historic District, established in 2011, and out of the commission’s purview.
Connie Rainey, a member of the three-person Historic Preservation Commission, explained there was a mistake made when the National Registry accepted the district.
Though it’s listed within the city’s designated boundaries, the building was listed at 215 N. Camellia Blvd. on the registry instead of its actual address: 309 N. Camellia Blvd.
Stumbo said City Council has received opinions from people on both sides of the demolition issue. About 300 residents signed a petition for the preservation of the building, and about 500 signed a separate petition for the new Wendy’s, according to documents given to City Council.
Historic preservationists argue the old bottling plant is too vital to the fabric of the city’s history to be irrevocably destroyed.
About 20 residents attended the meeting, most adamantly against the demolition.
Billie Logue, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission who once tried to buy and preserve the building, said history was being destroyed for a business that could fail.
“How do you increase the demand for hamburgers?” Logue challenged Strickland. He added later, “It’s easier to tear something down than to save it, I guess.”
Strickland said his business would be community-friendly and pointed to his success with Wendy’s for 30 years. He owns the Warner Robins Wendy’s at Moody Road and Russell Parkway, as well as a location in Cochran.
LeMario Brown, president of the Young Democrats in Peach County, said the Coke building has been vacant for 30 years and hasn’t added anything to the local economy.
“It comes down to job growth,” Brown said. “It’s going to bring more jobs, more community.”
Stumbo said he and council had a tough decision to make, but economic growth in Fort Valley is critical to the city’s survival.
“I know a lot of people will disagree with us, but we’re elected officials put in position to make these decisions,” Stumbo said. “One of the things we’re tasked with is how to bring economic growth to the city.”
Stumbo said he and council tried to offer other locations to Strickland, but the businessman turned them down.
Logue, Rainey and several residents asked Strickland to either keep the front facade or the whole building for a one-of-a-kind Wendy’s. Rainey showed pictures to Strickland of a similar concept in LaGrange.
Strickland said it would cost more than he anticipated to do and may not be feasible.
“I can’t relate to the building in Fort Valley. I wasn’t here,” Strickland told residents at the meeting. “What I can tell you is what I want to do here.”
Strickland said he didn’t know the building was considered historic until after he made an offer. Still, he said he intends to interact with the community and schools and to honor Fort Valley history inside his restaurant with pictures.
He will also preserve the Coca-Cola panel on the front of the building for a community organization to display or for use in the Wendy’s.
“It’s too little too late,” Dankel said. “That isn’t going to make up for the destruction of a historical building.”
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.