Dalton Historic Preservation Commission signs off on plans for Belk building

The Dalton Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday approved the exterior design for a renovation of the former Belk building on Hamilton Street. It is being converted to apartments which are expected to be available next spring.

The historic Belk building in downtown Dalton could reopen as an apartment building next spring, according to the owners.

The members of Dalton's Historic Preservation Commission unanimously approved Barrett Properties' exterior design for the building on Thursday. The commission's approval was needed because the building is in the downtown historic district.

Barry Slaymaker, head of strategy for Barrett Properties, said the vote moves the renovation of the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, further along.

"We still have applications in at the state (Department of Natural Resources) Historic Preservation Division and the federal Department of the Interior National Park Service because it is a historic preservation tax credit project, which means we will be adhering to Department of Interior guidelines for our rehabilitation," he said.

Slaymaker said state and federal officials may require changes, which would mean Barrett would have to bring the project back to the city's Historic Preservation Commission.

"But this is a good local endorsement of our plans," he said. "Our next step will be finding a contractor that is a good fit for this project. We are looking at opening in late spring (of 2020). There's still a lot of work to be done. But I think that is a reasonable goal."

The 20,000-square-foot building at 307 S. Hamilton St. opened in 1941 as a Belk department store. More recently, the building housed the offices of the state probation services.

"The Hamilton Street side will look very much like it did in 1941," Slaymaker said. "We will be maintaining as many of the historical materials as we can. The one piece on that side that will be new is a shadow box displaying the building's history. That will be on the northwest corner of the building. The side that faces north is where you will see the big change. That will have all of the windows for our units, the direct entry. It will be very modern looking, and the side facing east, towards the old freight depot, will have a 1941 look."

The building will have 18 apartments, two of them two bedroom and the rest will be single bedroom. It will also have a commercial space of about 750 square feet on the first floor facing Hamilton Street.

"We've been talking to a number of businesses about that space," Slaymaker said. "We are ultimately interested in getting a business in there that will be an attraction that will help bring people downtown."

Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President Rob Bradham said after the commission's meeting he is glad to see the project moving forward.

"The Belk building project is a great project for downtown for two reasons," he said. "First, it restores a historic piece of our community and makes it contribute to the fabric of our downtown once again. Second, it almost doubles the number of housing units downtown. We want our downtown to be vibrant 16 hours a day, and that will require people living downtown. I wish we could add 100 or 150 more residential units downtown."

Commission member Kathryn Sellers asked during the meeting how work is going on the historic railroad depot at 110 Depot St., which Barrett Properties bought from the city last fall.

"As we get the work on the Belk building underway, we can focus our energy on getting the right tenants in place (in the depot) and start the design work," said Slaymaker.

He said they won't do significant work on the building until they have tenants lined up and know what their needs are.

The company is looking at having a restaurant on one end of the 12,000-square-foot building and a bar at the other end.

"We are looking at two separate tenants," said Slaymaker. "That's the concept we have. It's such a large building and has a natural divide between the two ends. But does it have to be two different businesses? No. We are looking at having a separate restaurant space and a separate bar space, and maybe one business can do both."

The depot was the home of the Dalton Depot restaurant and Trackside Tavern for some 25 years until the city closed the depot in November of 2015 for health reasons.

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