For decades, the old city jail has been used for storage, but the building’s future holds potential.
City officials are looking at options for the 19th century brick building which stands on Madison Street near downtown. A few years ago, the city had a landscape architecture student from the University of Georgia offer help with several downtown projects.
While the student was in the area, the city had him look at the old jail. The student took some photographs and played with ideas for reuse of the building, including as a restaurant and as an office.
“It shows that there is potential reuse of the structure,” said Hasco Craver IV, assistant city manager. Mayor Keith Brady said he likes the concepts the UGA student presented.
“I think we leave the lid off the box and just see where it goes. I wouldn’t want to limit anything,” Brady said.
The Newnan Downtown Development Authority discussed the old jail at its meetings in January and February.
Craver said the building has been used for storage successively by Newnan Utilities, Nulink and now WOW!, which is in the process of transferring the storage to a technical closet across Madison Street.
“We’ll have to somebody come in and give us an idea of the structural integrity, talk about potential uses,” Craver said.
Courtney Harcourt, Newnan’s Main Street director, said at the most recent DDA meeting on Wednesday that she had talked with someone with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation who suggested a commercial use for the jail might be workable.
The trust also offered insights on how the city could lease or sell the building but make sure the facade is preserved. “He gave us some examples of easements and contracts that have been used in the past,” Harcourt said.
She noted there has been debate about whether the structure can be used for a commercial purpose or simply restored. “We’re kind of back to the drawing table,” Harcourt said.
“I’ve been down there a couple of times. It’s a neat piece of property. It’s really rough looking right now,” said Casey Smith, a local restaurateur who is the DDA chairman.
“It’s not in the best of condition right now,” Harcourt agreed.
The UGA drawings included a sketch of an outdoor patio if the building became a restaurant. DDA member Jim Thomasson said adding to the existing footprint might make reuse of the building more feasible.
Brady said the land that surrounds the building should be a critical part of any discussion of the jail’s future. An adjacent parking area can be used, and the tract runs behind the jail to Olive Street.
Smith asked Harcourt to get a plat showing the building and property. He also asked her to determine if there are limitations on the use of the jail because of its proximity to other structures.
“That will narrow the scope of what could conceivably go there,” Smith said.
There are a couple of similar structures in other Georgia cities. “Neither of these have been adapted for reuse as a private business,” Harcourt said. There are some that have been restored as a historic site or for some educational purpose.
Harcourt said some jails have been adapted to other uses, such as boutique hotels, restaurants and bars. Most, however, were larger than the Madison Street structure.
“We believe it was built sometime between 1840 and 1880, so it is an old structure,” Harcourt said. The jail first appears on a city map in 1885 and names and dates – scratched by prisoners on the walls – go back to the 1920s.
The building was used as a jail until 1938 when jail cells were included in the construction of the New Deal era municipal building on Jefferson Street. The jail “may be a little bit more of a significant structure than we might have thought in the past,” Harcourt said.