By Derrick Perkins
Residents-turned-preservationists remain committed to saving the former Carver Nursery School even after the deadline has come and gone, but owner William Cromley has yet to see a viable proposal cross his desk.
The Parker-Gray neighborhood building’s future has been in flux since Cromley first pitched the idea of razing the one-time nursery school to make way for condominiums several years ago. While city officials signed off on the project, neighbors and activists waged a legal battle to save the former school — and later an American Legion post — from redevelopment.
Since then, Cromley has had to shelve his plans for the property while city staff, aided by activists, tried to find a buyer. But when the February 25 deadline passed, no one had stepped forward with plans to save and maintain the property — valued at about $700,000.
That didn’t deter residents of the traditionally black neighborhood, who urged Cromley to give them more time to either buy it or find a willing preservationist. He weighed the idea but added a stipulation: They present him a firm plan — including financing — for the months ahead.
That has yet to happen, he said.
“They sent over an action plan, and I let them know an action plan is not what I agreed to,” Cromley said earlier this week. “All it said was, ‘We’re going to try and raise money,’ and I said that’s exactly what I didn’t agree to — to give them more time. What I agreed to was a plan that showed money would be coming and the building would be shown [to potential buyers], not that you have six more months to try.”
But, busy with other projects, Cromley hasn’t lined up a wrecking crew just yet. Gwendolyn Day-Fuller, who has helped organize the grassroots effort, believes there’s still time to preserve the North Fayette Street building.
“We’re still moving forward,” she said. “We’re really hoping we can make a difference. We are seeing things — we feel — softening a little bit.”
Day-Fuller and other residents hoping to salvage the aging building got a morale boost late last month. City council approved a resolution throwing its support behind the preservation efforts.
“Clearly there are the beginnings of some private fundraising efforts going on in the community to ... purchase the property. Unfortunately those are very tardy efforts,” said City Councilor Justin Wilson, who made it clear the city would not be “the buyer of last resort.”
While city council’s support falls short of offering substantial financial aid, it does give City Manager Rashad Young leeway to help activists secure grants. Councilors also recognized Cromley’s patience while endorsing the grassroots campaign.
“If it’s success — fine. If not, it’s not for lack of trying,” said Mayor Bill Euille.
Day-Fuller saw city council’s decision to speak out as a potentially pivotal moment. They also have banded together with other local historical and preservationist groups while planning the path ahead.
If they succeed, it will mark a “win-win” for the parties involved, said Cromley. But he’s not holding out much hope.
“It’s a lot of money to raise, and everybody has got their hand out for money for lots of good causes,” Cromley said. “They’re fighting an uphill battle, and I haven’t seen any real progress yet.”