Tuesday, July 31, the historic Dixie Building on South Elm Street was condemned by the city and evacuated, and South Elm between Market and Washington streets was closed down. February One Place, which runs beside the building, had already been closed for construction.
By late Tuesday afternoon, the city had determined that the building was safe and it reopened on Wednesday, after the utilities were turned back on.
The fact that water was pouring into the basement of the Dixie Building was reported by employees of Cincy’s Restaurant, which is street level on February One Place but on the basement level of the Dixie Building.
In investigating the water pouring into the building, the city discovered large cracks in the floor and that the basement floor had separated from the columns. What was unknown – and the reason the building was immediately condemned and evacuated – was whether the columns had sunk or the floor had risen. After a structural engineer determined that the floor had risen an estimated five inches and the city had found that the water in the basement was not city water, meaning there was no waterline break, the building was ruled safe.
The city is in the process of building a six-story parking deck with a 10-story Westin Hotel on top of the southern portion of the deck, so this is not a small construction project underway directly behind the building. Several months ago the city demolished the building adjacent to the Dixie Building on February One. The private parking deck across February One has also been demolished.
The parking deck (after the first floor will be built over February One Place, essentially making February One a tunnel) and the entrance to the Westin Hotel will be at ground level on February One.
The city reported that some boring for columns has been done, but actual construction has not started. However, there is a large hole where the building was demolished at the corner of Davie and Market.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said after the investigation, “The good news is that building isn’t sinking and is structurally sound.”
About the water and the basement floor rising an estimated five inches, Vaughan said, “I don’t believe it’s construction related.”
City Councilmember Justin Outling said, “The timing would suggest that the two are related.”
One person familiar with downtown construction said, “It looks like the borings screwed up the water table a little bit.”
One theory is that with all the recent rain, the water got under the floor, raised it up and then found an outlet into the basement to relieve the pressure.
It’s a little hard to fathom how a building that is over 100 years old and has a huge construction project taking place behind it could suddenly have the basement flood and the floors rise five inches and it not be related to that construction.
People say there is an underground river that runs beneath downtown Greensboro and point to all the problems related to water that construction projects have faced. The International Civil Rights Center and Museum across South Elm Street from the Dixie Building had to install pumps to keep water away from the building when it was undergoing renovation.
The good news for the city is that, since the building is structurally sound, it shouldn’t hold up the construction because the parking/hotel project is behind schedule.
It was held up for months by a lawsuit from another neighbor, and that controversy isn’t over yet. Cone Denim Entertainment Center owned by Rocky Scarfone, filed a lawsuit against the city when his easement across the parking lot that runs the entire block from Market Street to February One was condemned by the city.
Greensboro offered $55,000 for the easement from Davie Street to the back of Cone Denim Entertainment Center. When Scarfone refused that offer, the City Council voted to condemn the easement. Scarfone filed a lawsuit and asked for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the construction of the parking deck until the easement issue could be settled.
North Carolina Superior Court Judge Andy Cromer heard the case on Jan. 29 and said he would make a ruling on the request for the TRO probably in two weeks. Since the city had agreed not to start construction until the decision on the TRO was made, there was in effect a TRO in place even though no ruling had been made.
On April 24, Cromer still had not ruled on the TRO and the City Council voted to settle the lawsuit by giving Scarfone $735,000, an unobstructed easement out to Market Street, some parking rights, the land to build a green room on the back of Cone Denim and the right to build the green room in accordance with building codes.
Construction started shortly after that settlement was signed, but it’s not quite over yet. Scarfone signed the agreement, but not the accompanying legal documents because they had not yet been prepared and he still hasn’t signed them.
The issue is the green room. The building code requires that the stairs for the three-story green room be inside the building. Since the land given to Scarfone by the city is only 17 feet by 20 feet, the stairs, if inside, will take up much of the space. According to someone involved in the negotiations, Scarfone is now requesting air rights over the alley, so the upper floor of the green room would be the size that he intended.
The air rights wouldn’t cost the city any more money, but the City Council may believe that they have given Scarfone enough already. With this City Council it’s hard to determine which way it will go.