- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Officials with the state Department of Cultural Resources have plans for the historic Heck-Andrews House on North Blount Street, but they admit they haven’t done a good job of publicizing them.

The department wants to turn the 145-year-old home into an extension of the nearby Executive Mansion, where state officials can host special meetings and woo corporate executives. Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz says the house would help the state create jobs by providing a fitting venue for recruiting businesses.

The challenge is finding the money to pay for the renovations. The state has spent $256,000 in the past year renovating the outside of the three-story Second Empire home, restoring the ornate woodwork to its 19th century condition.

But the inside remains a ruin - vacant and essentially untouched since the state acquired full ownership in 1987. Making the space suitable as a showplace meeting space would cost an estimated $1.88 million, not including furnishings, which Kluttz says would be bought with private money.

Gov. Pat McCrory included the renovation money in his proposal to issue bonds to generate $2.85 billion for building and road projects across the state. But the House stripped the money from its version of the bond package, which it approved this month.

The Senate, in turn, sent the House bill to the Ways and Means Committee, which seldom meets, and hasn’t come up with a version of its own.

The idea of using the Heck-Andrews House as a state government conference center also must overcome calls to sell the property.

Preservationists and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, whose office is across the street from the house, have said the state will never spend the money needed to make the house usable again and should sell it to a preservation-minded buyer. In June, the house was among 17 properties that the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division identified as underused and good candidates to sell.

Meanwhile, the Cultural Resources Department’s vision for the Heck-Andrews House hasn’t been widely promoted. Last month, a department spokeswoman mistakenly told The News & Observer that it didn’t have any plans for it, and a governor’s spokesman initially said McCrory didn’t have a position on the house.

“That made us realize that we needed to do more work,” Kluttz said. “It goes back to awareness, and the public needs to be aware of what the needs are.”

Cultural Resources officials say the large, open rooms of the Heck-Andrews House provide the perfect set-up for a small conference center a block from the Executive Mansion.

“We need to take the pressure off the governor’s mansion,” said Kevin Cherry. “It is the residence of the governor, but it is also a museum setting, and it’s hard to hold public meetings in a museum setting around all those fine antiques and fine furnishings on the first floor.”

Kluttz says she and former Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker agreed the Heck-Andrews House would be an excellent place to recruit business. Decker’s successor, John Skvarla, agrees. He said he often meets with corporate executives in his office on North Wilmington Street, but that it isn’t the best environment for having a cup of coffee or dinner meeting with them.

“It would be advantageous to have a smaller meeting place more conducive to business conversations and relationship building,” he said.

Kluttz and Cherry make the case for the Heck-Andrews House in the context of a broader campaign for using historic preservation as an economic development tool.

They, along with Skvarla and McCrory, have been pressing to restore the state’s historic preservation tax credits, highlighting how they’ve been used for projects that have helped revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods across the state.

“So as we’ve been traveling around the state making this argument, and having local communities show how true it is,” Cherry said, “right here at our own building we have a perfect example of how that kind of investment can also be used in state government.”

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Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com

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