Aftermath: What is next for city owned Stahl-Urban building

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

BROOKHAVEN — The City of Brookhaven owned the former Stahl-Urban building which burned Monday night. Brookhaven Aldermen discussed options for demolishing the building back in December. 

Mike McKenzie of WGK Engineering told the city it would take $35,000 to $40,000 just to begin preparations to tear the building down, including an engineering report in December. A few days later, he said a man contacted Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox and expressed interest in the property for development. 

“We never did anything and we had hoped his interest would turn into the city selling the property,” McKenzie said. 

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Cox said he has been in contact with the developer over the last couple of years. He called him Monday and Tuesday to provide the developer updates on what happened. 

“He knows it burned,” Cox said. “There is a possibility of developing it.” 

Brookhaven continues to explore options for what to do with the property. 

A Daily Leader article written in 2006 detailed discussions to tear down the building. In 2009, an article reported the demolition plans were paused to wait for a better economic market. At the time, aldermen decided the building was “unsightly at best and a fire hazard at worst.” 

An historic building

A portion of the Stahl-Urban property and main building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and was eligible as a Mississippi Landmark. Under Mississippi’s state antiquities law, historic buildings require a permit from MDAH to be torn down. 

The building was built in 1931 and listed as destroyed in 2024 according to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. MDAH states the garment factory closed in 1983. Stahl-Urban was once a major employer in Brookhaven and a backbone of the community. 

McKenzie said he believes the building would still be technically listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Barry White, director of historic preservation for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said the National Registry is more of an honor. Unless federal funding is involved, there are no restrictions on the use, management maintenance or disposal of a historic property. 

White said that one eligibility factor for a building to be considered a Mississippi Landmark is it must have historic integrity.

“Historic integrity is the ability of the building to convey its significance,” White said. “Although I am unaware of the level of damage, which I imagine is substantial, MDAH would likely consider the building to have lost its historic integrity. If this is the case, it would no longer be eligible for Mississippi Landmark designation and therefore not require an MDAH permit for demolition.”

Asbestos concerns

McKenzie told the board in December it is likely the building had lead paint or asbestos. Brookhaven has not officially warned of any issues or concerns relating to asbestos since the fire. Brookhaven Fire Chief Jeff Ainsworth said he doesn’t recall asbestos ever being mentioned. While asbestos is typically the issue for old hospitals, such as the old KDMC building, Stahl-Urban did not have a lot of piping which it was used to insulate. 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral with fibrous properties. It is a great insulator for heat and electricity and is noticeably fire resistant. 

The material was used for construction of buildings until adverse health effects were discovered in the 1970s. It is likely buildings constructed prior to 1980 contain asbestos. 

Asbestos is nonflammable and noncombustible. The melting point for asbestos is 1,600 degrees. Asbestos does not evaporate into the air, dissolve into water or break down over time. Often, asbestos is a threat when it breaks and releases fibers. For example, when the twin towers in New York collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001 it released asbestos into the surrounding area. 

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has not responded to inquiries at this time about the risk of asbestos with the Stahl-Urban building.

Check back for further updates.