New Life for Threefoot?

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Howard Robbins of Daphne, AL, owns the Threefoot Building in downtown Meridian. For years, the building has been virtually vacant. But Tuesday, Robbins made an announcement.

"I said I could not do anything downtown until additional parking was created. That was the logjam and that was the key to it. But now that the parking garage is being built, then we're gearing up to getting started to renovate the Threefoot Building," said Robbins.

"And we plan for it to be a hotel for the conference center (Riley Performing Arts Center) and also some private residences in there also," said Robbins. "The scope of it keeps growing daily as the plans for the downtown keep growing. We're committed to it and now's the time for us to begin."

Robbins and his partner, Jackson general contractor Mike Harrell are now doing the preliminary investigative work with architects.

"We would time the opening of the Threefoot with the opening of the Opera House and the Conference Center," Robbins said.

Robbins said it would be a complete restoration. "It means everything new all through the building. We're going to keep the historic part of the building and keep the outside of the building pretty much as it is today," said Robbins, "just restore it. But everything will be upgraded to all the modern conveniences and the elevators will be solid state instead of the old heat system buttons. Everything will be done just as if it were a brand new building."

Robbins said it's likely the building's name will remain the same.

"We don't think the name will be changed. We think Threefoot will still be in there. That's yet to be decided but we're pretty sure it will remain Threefoot" Robbins said.

The Threefoot Building has been a landmark for more than 70 years and has gone through many changes.

Files from the Meridian Star show the Threefoot Building was erected in 1930 by the Threefoot Brothers. They were sons of Abraham Threefoot, who had opened a retail grocery store in 1869 and later became a grocery wholesaler.

Local historian Fonda Rush has a 50-year-old picture of the structure in her files.

"(It's) a picture of the Threefoot Building taken by Aggie Weems in the mid-1950s. And he was a reporter for the Meridian Star and a photographer in Meridian," said Rush.

During this time the Threefoot Building was considered the tallest and most beautiful building between Jackson and Birmingham. And in the early 1930s it was featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not as a 16 story on a Threefoot lot."

The building contains over 54,000 square feet, and in its heyday, was home to 280 offices. Construction cost at that time was estimated to be $750,000. It was originally planned as a 12-story building but before construction began the plans were changed and its height was raised to 16 stories.

Much of the available information on the history of the building is to be found in the books written by historian Jack Shank that are still available for sale at the Habitat for Humanity office managed by Fonda Rush.

The Threefoot Building was constructed in 1930 at an estimated cost of $750,000. Over the years, however, its value has declined, as new offices were built in Meridian. The Threefoot Building deteriorated at the same time.

As long ago as 1959, it was sold to local businessman Rod Goodling for $335,000 and has been sold several times since.

In 1995 it was appraised by the tax assessor at $219,000. In 2002 the Threefoot Building's value had been depreciated to $134,000.

Taxpayers would benefit from the restoration. The work will be done using only private funds but the value should rise, resulting in higher property taxes for the city and county.