City to consider bids for downtown demolition

Little more than walls remain in some parts of the shopping center. Heavy equipment was used to knock down sections of the roof and walls after flames got inside the structure.
Little more than walls remain in some parts of the shopping center. Heavy equipment was used to knock down sections of the roof and walls after flames got inside the structure.

The Lewis Smith shopping center is one step closer to being a memory.

City Council on Tuesday will consider three bids for demolition of the shopping center, which was damaged by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, then burned in February. The property had no power at the time, and was occasionally occupied by homeless people and drug users. Firefighters from five departments fought the blaze for hours, after it became deeply embedded in multiple layers of old roofing that damaged firefighting equipment.

After extended negotiations between the owner and the city, Whiteville agreed to take possession of the property.

Three companies bid on the demolition – DLS Ground Maintenance ($144,450); HERR, Inc. ($149,900) and Axel McPherson Construction ($154,400). The project has been delayed in part due to asbestos inspections.

Built in the early 1970s, the shopping center was one of the first of its kind in  Whiteville. Through the years, it has housed department and furniture stores,  offices, specialty stores and other businesses. It most recently was home to an antique store, Gurganious Farm Store and a flooring firm. None of those businesses were operating in the buildings at the time of the fire.

Firefighters battled the Lewis Smith Shopping center blaze for hours in February. The city council will consider bids Tuesday for final demolition of the property. (file photo)
Firefighters battled the Lewis Smith Shopping center blaze for hours in February. The city council will consider bids Tuesday for final demolition of the property. (file photo)

Potential uses for the property include a park as well as additional parking for downtown. Under most circumstances, local governments cannot develop gifted or flood-prone property for commercial or residential purposes. The shopping center in the floodplain for Soles Swamp, and has had issues with high water for decades.

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Jefferson Weaver is the managing editor of columbuscountynews.com and news director for WTXY radio. He can be reached at 910.632.4965, or by email at jeffersonweaver@columbuscountynews.com.