Gainesville’s Historic Preservation Board approved a staff recommendation that will rebuild a portion of the Thelma Boltin Center while preserving and renovating the main auditorium.
The motion carried 5-1 with one abstention. A previous motion to deny failed for a lack of a second. The Gainesville City Commission will take up the issue next for a final vote, and the commission has supported a full rebuild in the past which concerned board members at Tuesday’s meeting.
The staff’s recommendation bridged two options: completely renovate the building or destroy and rebuild the center. The recommendation came with five conditions that the board also approved.
The conditions require the historic auditorium to not be demolished but restored to its original status, a new wing will be built that models the existing wing, the gymnasium will extend further back to increase backstage space, surrounding trees will be preserved to the greatest extent possible during construction and gallery space in the new wing will show the history of the building.
The city of Gainesville designated $3 million toward the building, and Betsy Waite, director of Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP), said the funds wouldn’t be enough for a renovation project. But a complete rebuild would be possible and the new building would mirror the existing one with some layout changes for better use.
She said full demolition would be in the best interest of the city.
However, members said preservation concerned the board, not economics.
“It is not appropriate to tear down an historic building that can be restored,” Board Member Liz Hauk said. “I do not care if it costs $6 million. I just voted to tax myself to pay for projects like this.”
Restoration estimates from REG Architects ranged from $4.8 million to $6.1 million.
During public comment, citizens supported a restoration path versus demolition. Citizens also asked if the city had funds to begin work on other historic buildings, like the Thomas Center, before they reached a similar point.
Currently, code enforcement has listed the building as unsafe, and if the city commission approves a renovation route, they will also need to find additional funding before moving forward.
The city closed the center after starting a restoration project in December 2020. At the time, the city had no plans to demolish and rebuild, but Waite said the city was also ignorant and structural issues. Once started, it found the roofing trusses had failed along with termite damage and undersized foundational support, according to Waite.
Part of the site is also in a FEMA flood zone, requiring further modifications.