Fate of historic downtown Dahlonega buildings to be decided soon
The Parks, left, and Butler buildings stand in Dahlonega on Monday. The two structures are at the center of a debate over historic preservation in the Gold City, as the buildings' owner wants to tear them down and build a three-story hotel. - photo by Nick Bowman

The fate of the Parks and Butler buildings in Dahlonega is coming closer to being decided.

The pair of buildings have been a source of attention in Dahlonega for the past couple of years, as owner Roberta Green Garrett hopes to replace them with a three-story hotel on East Main Street — a move opposed by Dahlonega residents operating under the banner of Preserve Historic Dahlonega.

A banner of a different sort deepened the controversy surrounding the hotel project in mid-February, when a sign was hoisted on the front of the Butler building claiming it was a former meeting site of the Ku Klux Klan.

The banner was up for a few hours before it was removed because city leaders said it violated a city ordinance, but not before the banner had caught the attention of many. Neither Green Garrett nor anyone else ever took credit for the sign.

The request to demolish the Parks building went before the Dahlonega City Council earlier that month.

The council granted it, though the Historic Preservation Commission had voted against the demolition because the Parks building at 40 E. Main St., formerly the Parks Clothing Store, had a long history near the Dahlonega square.

Now, the city is setting up for another vote on the issue.

In late September, the Dahlonega Historic Preservation Commission voted against allowing the Butler building to be demolished. As with the Parks building, Green Garrett has appealed the decision to the city council.

Dahlonega City Manager Bill Schmid said Monday that the agenda for the next council meeting has not been set but that the group could vote this month or next on whether to override the Historic Preservation Commission.

In his report to the commission, Schmid wrote that it was the city’s position that the Butler building should not be destroyed.

“The building is not in danger of collapse, can be restored to original features as an enhancement to the historic district without extraordinary effort and can provide a reasonable economic return,” Schmid wrote in August.

The structure was built in 1947, and the Parks building, which is in much worse condition, is between 80 and 120 years older than that, according to Schmid. The hotel replacing them would be three stories and almost 30,000 square feet.

Preserve Historic Dahlonega co-founder Penny Sharp, who owns a business located across the street from the Butler and Parks buildings, said both the Parks and Butler buildings have generated income in the past three years and shouldn’t be destroyed. She’s also opposed to the hotel that would go in their place on the grounds that the relatively large building would be out of character with the historic downtown square.

However, an inspection from Marietta engineer J. Wayne Proctor led him to write that the Butler building “structure is deficient and is unsafe for public use” and “should be demolished.” To keep the building open, the “mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems” would need to be replaced, Proctor wrote in his August report to Atlanta-area developer Roger DeBoy.

In a statement faxed to The Times in February — after the KKK sign was displayed on the Butler building — Green Garrett said she only wanted to improve downtown Dahlonega.

“I need the city to work with me to build something that will bring jobs and tax revenue into our town,” she said. “I have paid thousands and thousands of dollars in tax money as well as creating jobs for our community. It seems as though I have met opposition at every turn.”