by Lydia Wheeler
Great writers watch as you climb the marble staircase - Shakespeare, Poe, Homer, Dante, Sophocles - there are nine in all.
Their stone busts line the ceiling of the historic Carnegie library at 345 W. Freemason St., a two-story, 9,600-square-foot building that's been on the market for more than two years.
"It was a foreclosure," said Rob Riddle of Riddle Associates Inc.
The firm has been marketing the property for the last six months at an asking price of $1.1 million.
Old Point National Bank of Phoebus foreclosed on its former owners, Ghent Development Partners LLC, and bought back the property for $1.45 million in June 2010, according to city records. Ghent Development Partners owned the building for four years prior, having purchased it from Powell On Freemason LLC for $1.5 million in April 2006.
Now the property sits vacant along a picturesque cobblestone street in the historic Freemason neighborhood of Norfolk.
From February to May, the bank spent $100,000 renovating the former library - updating the carpets, replacing the heating and cooling systems, and painting, said Bill Brackman, vice president, associate broker with Riddle Associates.
"The building is in move-in condition for business use," he said. "It could be occupied by one company or used as a multi-tenant office building."
Zoning allows for multiple uses including residential and commercial.
The building was constructed in 1903 with a $50,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie on land donated by the children of William Selden as a memorial to their father. It was Norfolk's first free public library and it housed the city's literary collection until the early 1960s, according to information compiled by City Historian Peggy Haile McPhillips.
Last assessed in July at $1.31 million, each floor of the building is 4,183 square feet and a mezzanine accounts for an additional 1,234 square feet. The former owners used the space as a gym and it's still equipped with a sauna and a tanning bed. There is a ramp in the back of the building, making it handicap-accessible to the first floor.
Brackman said the firm has had two offers for the property in the last six months and is actively seeking new interest.
Though the architecture and design is impressive, Riddle said the property, which is less than an acre, has its challenges.
There is limited parking for prospective tenants. A small lot on the side of the building can accommodate 10 cars. The other options are off-street metered parking and a city garage two blocks away, both of which cost money.
Couple little parking with a soft economy and there the building sits. But Riddle hopes the recent improvements will help the property, which he calls a must-see sell.
"You really have to see it to appreciate it," he said. "It's turn-of-the century architecture at its finest."nib