Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Wilmington Historic Preservation Commission will hear Pour House mural issue this week

The mural on the stairwell leading to Pour House in downtown Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — On Thursday the city’s Historic Preservation Commission will hear the case of a downtown bar, which has been shuttered for five months by state Covid-19 regulations, facing a fine over a stairwell mural deemed to have violated the city’s historical appropriateness guidelines.

Related: Wilmington threatens to fine downtown bar, shuttered for three months, over year-old stairwell artwork

In June, the city’s planning division served notice to the Pour House bar, located at Front and Market streets, with notice of possible civil penalties for violating the regulations established by Wilmington’s Historic Preservation Commission. The mural was painted over a year ago by artist Steen Jones.

Owner Joe Apkarian, who has previously spoken out about the timing of the potential fine, continued to express his disappointment and frustration with the city and noted the jarring contrast between the treatment of his establishment and the Downtown Alive, aimed at helping downtown restaurants endure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The fact that a Marine veteran-owned small business is getting this done to them while I’m out working a federal contract for FEMA on virus response matters in the midst of being shut down coming on six months is shameful, Apkarian said. “Period.”

Apkarian said the city’s pursuit of the issue “puts into glaring light just how old and outdated our codes are in regard to artwork and murals and hurts making our downtown vibrant and alive. Don’t call it ‘Downtown Alive’ if we are literally making business owners cover up bright and fun artwork.”

Pour House stairwell, seen from street level. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

In addition to the optics, Apkarian’s attorney, Stephen Coggins, took issue with the city’s interpretation of the historic code, according to a letter including in the case summary. Coggins asked the city to grant an administrative bypass

In the letter to the city’s planning department, Coggins noted that the stairwell was constructed in 2004 (and thus, implicitly, not really a ‘historical structure.’) Coggins also wrote that a below-grade supporting wall, such as the one where the Pour House mural appears, did not appear to fit the city’s definition of ‘landmark,’ nor did the mural appear to ‘alter’ the wall. Coggins also added that imposing the city code on a business already experiencing hardship due to Covid-19 restrictions should be avoided.

Related: ‘Public nuisance’ or public art? Muralist wants Wilmington to change its ways

It’s not the first time businesses have clashed with the city over freedom of expression or accused the city’s ordinances and enforcement of being arbitrary. Many have pointed to the presence of modern facades of chain restaurants like Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Waffle House as obvious failures in the city’s attempt to ‘preserve historical appeal’ while enforcement officers have cited other businesses and residences for lesser offenses. In addition to battles over ‘historical appropriateness,’ other businesses have fought the city over its definition of ‘graffiti’ and ‘art.’

The Wilmington Historic Preservation Commission meeting will be held at the downtown convention center on Thursday, September 10 at 5:30 p.m.

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localdailymedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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