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Black Community Opinions

Local Voices: Still Standing – The Old Tobacco Building On Princess Anne Road

According to the city of Norfolk, the month of April was the published time deadline set for action to be taken to repair or destroy the old dilapidated American Cigar Company building frame at 1148 East Princess Anne Road.

It’s the beginning of May and I have seen no evidence that any action is been taken. The city and the owner of the shell, Developer, Andy McCullough agreed on an April date to repair or destroy what’s left of the used-to-be building. The shell is what’s left of an old tobacco company building built in 1903.

According to the Norfolk city manager, the builder would either make repairs or tear down the structure, or the city would bulldoze it. So far, the owner has last said for the nth time that he is almost ready to “renovate” the building. A stall tactic in my mind.

The history of the company is that it was built in 1903 for workers to remove stems from tobacco. According to National Park Service records, it was built near a poor African American labor force, particularly African American women who represented most of the workforce for many years. I have read nothing published indicating that African Americans in the community of this eyesore find historical merit in its retention. The only value of retaining a wall of the building which has been cited to date is the financial gain for the developer.

That dilapidated piece of structure has been standing in the condition it’s in since 2014. It’s not only an eyesore for the community, it’s also unsafe. The structure is in a black community, and near Booker T. Washington High School. That may have something to do with the slowness of action. Members of the community who see this eyesore each day must be depressed. What a view and a mood to be in to start your day!

School children pass by the building every school day and there may be a tendency among naturally curious children to nosy around or play in the old half torn down dilapidated structure. Not only is the building an eyesore and a danger, it has been obstructing traffic in that area of Princess Anne Road since August 18, 2014, according to Patrick Wilson, former reporter for the Virginian Pilot Newspaper. Two lanes of traffic were closed for a long period of time before the city forced the Developer to open at least three lanes.

My question is how can our city leaders allow such an unsafe eyesore and traffic impediments to stand in the city for so long without taking some action? Is the location the reason the city has not acted? Or is it because the developer has so much clout that the city is unable to challenge him? There must be an answer to the problem that I can’t understand!

Shedrick Byrd is a frequent contributor to the New Journal and Guide.

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