The renovation process is underway at the historic Railroad Depot in downtown Columbus.
Gayle Guynup, a California-based investor, purchased the property nearly 13 months ago. On Monday, she confirmed to The Dispatch that her contractor is working on alterations to the building’s exterior as she continues to search for tenants for the 129-year-old building.
Gene Reed, the contractor, has started demolishing part of the exterior that was not part of the original building. That move was prompted by a visit from Guynup to Columbus about six weeks ago for a Main Street Columbus meeting with downtown business owners.
During the meeting, someone showed Guynup an old photograph of the building’s original construction.
“I took the photo to Gene and we decided that, regardless of who goes in as tenants, we wanted to restore the exterior as close as possible to its original condition,” Guynup said during a phone interview from her home in Santa Rosa, California. “The part that was added on, about 850 square feet, was in poor condition, so that made it an easy decision to go ahead and change it back to its original appearance. So that’s what you are seeing there now.”
Even with the demolition, the building has ample space, approximately 12,000 square feet.
Guynup said the visit to Columbus also gave her some ideas about what sort of businesses would work in the building.
“We hadn’t received any serious inquiries since the purchase, but at the meeting local business owners were encouraging the idea of a mini-brewery and restaurants, more of a place to eat and drink,” Guynup said. “We had thought, considering the needs from The W and the downtown area, apartments might be an idea. At that meeting, someone asked us not to move ahead with apartments, but we had reached that decision anyway.”
Guynup said the idea of a mini-brewery has potential, but she wants to study the laws in Mississippi that govern micro-breweries before proceeding. A California attorney is researching what restrictions exist, like whether you can produce on-site and sell off-site or if you have to keep it there, Guynup explained.
“If we like what we hear and its makes sense to pursue something like that, we will then start looking to see who is already doing that there,” she said. “We need to find out who those brewers and, if a brewery makes sense, who we should approach. We wouldn’t be interest in someone who is new to the business.”
Guynup added that a local entrepreneur has approached her with an idea for a couple of restaurants that might complement the micro-brewery.
“We haven’t had a chance to sit down and negotiate the tenant improvements that would be necessary,” she said. “It could be expensive and it might be a situation where we partner a person who has a good long-term business plan.
“I’m not wedded to the brewery/restaurant idea, but I’m willing to listen. Right now, we’re still doing our research, but we have some ideas to work with.”
Part of the appeal of the brewery/restaurant idea is that it might help preserve the historical integrity of the building’s interior. The fewer the tenants, the fewer the changes, she said.
“Really, that’s my main goal,” she said.
For Guynup, the purchase of the Depot is a continuation of her historic preservation efforts.
Guynup, a judge who is the trustee for several family trusts, has purchased the Oddfellows Building on Main Street, the Parker Furniture Complex and the Alford Drugs building near the intersection of Main and Fifth streets within the past decade.
At each one, she worked to rehab struggling structures.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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