The Nickel Building in Frostburg, which for decades was home to Au Petit Paris, a popular restaurant specializing in French cuisine, has been in the news for several years as leaders in the Mountain City work to find someone to purchase and refurbish it.
They should accept an offer currently on the table and sell the city-owned property to a local couple who seem to have solid restoration plans. By doing so, they can save one of the most recognizable structures in the primary business district from eventual demolition.
The sidewalk-level facade of the vacant, three-story, brick edifice at 84 E. Main St. still has the fancy-but-faded French-themed marquee and fleur-de-lis that welcomed customers and heralded an upscale dining experience. The building has deteriorated from its heyday but is still ripe for redevelopment.
Last week, the mayor and City Council reviewed a proposal from Larry and Meagan Guthrie that calls for “rehabilitating the building to house six new businesses of different kinds” and “will be able to house three small shops, a full-service restaurant and two other businesses.”
The icing on the cake would be the addition of luxury apartments to the top two floors of the structure.
The Guthries want to buy the building for $40,000, considerably less than the $160,000 the city paid in 2017 through a partnership with Allegany County. That price was based on the appraised value at the time.
But they plan to invest no less than $400,000 in the first two years. In the offer, they stated a preference to have the project finished by 2023. Sometimes money generated from taxes is lost as a project evolves. In this case, the private investment will far exceed the public outlay. With any luck, payment of property taxes will eventually close the gap.
After obtaining the deed, the city has found it difficult to attract bids for the potential sale of the building. At first, the real estate had grant money attached to it, along with all the stipulations that came with it. That arrangement was dropped and new proposals were accepted from July through mid-September. Two were received.
City Administrator Elizabeth Stahlman said she shared the plans with four people familiar with business planning and economic development and asked them for recommendations. All identifying information was removed.
All four of them recommended accepting the Guthries’ vision for the building.
Officials plan to hold a special meeting Oct. 19 to decide on the matter. Two council members, Kevin Grove and Donny Carter, said they would most likely recuse themselves from the vote to avoid conflicts of interest. Grove said he has family ties to the Guthries and Carter submitted the competing bid.
The Guthries have a proven track record, having previously rehabilitated a building at 113 Main St.
We think it’s in the best interest of the city to lose $120,000 if the end result is saving a landmark. Let’s hope officials seal the deal.