WILMINGTON — A building, known for its arts and cultural impact over the years in downtown Wilmington, could come into compliance with county regulations after being condemned at the end of June.
New Hanover County issued a notice of condemnation at 208 Market St. earlier this summer and held an administrative hearing on the issue July 28. It told owner Joseph Hou he needed to file permits to make repairs to remove the condemned status.
In the wake of the hearing, Hou — who has operated Szechuan 132 in town for more than three decades — said he intended to file permits to bring the space up to code. A condemnation notice on the building lists poor condition of walls, defective construction and “decay” issues posing public safety hazards.
Hou followed through on the hearing’s conclusions this month. A permit application for commercial interior demolition was filed Aug. 10, with a commercial renovation application filed the following day. The demo permit was approved Wednesday, Aug. 23, but the renovation application is still under staff review.
The applications shed some light on the work and costs associated with bringing the space up to code. A renovation contract signed by Hou and William Harnett, with contractor firm HKS Construction, lists about $1.15 million in agreed-to costs. About $600,000 will be paid for labor and $550,000 to purchase materials.
Tax records show Hou purchased the property for $425,000 in 1997 and it has a current appraised tax value of $928,400.
Descriptions attached to the applications describe a total overhaul, including demolition of interior bars, bathrooms, stairs, railings, ceiling grids and tiles to bring the building down to a shell. From there, renovations would entail bringing the building up to code with a new roof, HVAC system, wiring, American with Disabilities Act-compliant bathrooms, stairs, storefront glass, concrete and fire resistance.
The estimated completion date for the work is May 9, 2024.
The county told Port City Daily Hou met the 10-day deadline to file for permits. The county is anticipating a new master architectural plan to be submitted as part of the alteration process.
Hou did not respond to a request for comment by press.
Anthony Durret, the current tenant who leased the space in the fall, intended to turn the building into a wedding venue.
Durret told WHQR last month there was a $175,000 line of credit to upfit the building, but he discovered more issues and estimated the repairs would cost in the realm of $700,000.
New Hanover County spokesperson Alex Riley said, from a technical standpoint, the building is condemned until a permit to mitigate it is applied for and issued to a contractor.
“From the standpoint of our Building Safety team, a true condemnation is when nothing is done and the building cannot be used,” Riley wrote to PCD in an email.
In that case, a building would remain off limits to the public or be demolished.
No buildings in the county have been condemned in the past five years, Riley confirmed.
208 Market St. was closed in 2017 amid similar concerns. Operational only for three months, the medium-sized music venue shuttered suddenly that year in September. At the time, then tenant and business owner Damian Brezinski told PCD he paid for an inspection and the findings made it impossible to stay open. Hou, in 2017, claimed Brezinkski did not fulfill several of his obligations.
The building has been home to a long list of businesses throughout the years, primarily playing the role of concert venue and club under a host of names and proprietors. However, it first came to life in 1941 as a movie theater, The Manor. It operated for 44 years before then becoming concert halls, including Jacob’s Run, Ziggy’s By the Sea and Throne Theater.
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