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First Presby Moves Closer to Buying 508 Park. But Not Before City Gives a "Courtesy Review."

Back in August we discovered that at long last, 508 Park Avenue -- the building in which Robert Johnson, Bob Wills and perhaps even Charlie Parker recorded -- had a savior: next-door neighbor First Presbyterian Church of Dallas. But almost four months later, the church has yet to seal the deal with the owners, Colby Properties (a Glazer's Distributors subsidiary), who spent much of '09 trying to raze the building and the adjacent 1900 Young Street following the city's code crackdown over vacant downtown buildings.

Turns out the church still intends to buy the property -- but not before it finds out what, exactly, the city will let First Presbyterian do with 508 Park, 1900 Young and 1905 Canton Street. That's why, on Wednesday, the church is going before the Landmark Commission's Central Business District Task Force to ask for a courtesy review, which calls for the city to give 508 Park and the other properties the architectural once-over and pass along its list of do's and don'ts to the church.

"We don't want to inherit Glazer's issues, and so we want to make sure the city's not going to pass that on to us," says First Presbyterian Church of Dallas's senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Joseph J. Clifford. "We want to run by what our immediate plans would be, which involve creating green space where 1900 Young stands. And we want to secure the 508 Park building. Right now, as we understand it, the building's in violation [of city codes], and we don't want to tear it down. There are some wonderful possibilities with it going forward, and we're excited about it. And if the city is good with our immediate vision, that clears hurdles in closing on the purchase. But we're really excited about the possibilities of building something off the musical heritage of the site and how that relates to our ministry."

Good Fulton & Farrell's Bryce Weigand, a principal with the architectural firm and a member of the church, tells unfair Park that, at present, there are no definitive plans for the properties. Some city officials who've met with Weigand and church officials in recent months say there has been talk of turning the building into an artists' studio of some kind. But that's still very much up in the air -- the church could partner with outside developers or artists looking to do something more "musical" with the building, say Weigand and Clifford.

Weigand does acknowledge: While the church will absolutely preserve 508 Park if it winds up buying the building, it does hope to raze 1900 Young Street and put in its place, possibly, an outdoor amphitheater. Either that, he says, or the church would like to "bookend" 508 Park with green space both at 1900 Young and 1905 Canton.

But that may not be easy: The Landmark Commission has already said no to the Glazers' request to raze 1900 Young Street. The City Plan Commission later upheld Landmark's decision. The church would have to convince both -- not to mention local preservationists -- that tearing down the building is in the city's best interests.

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"We'd like to hear a little more as to why they couldn't convert the building and adaptively reuse it as something else," says Katherine Seale, executive director of Preservation Dallas and a member of the city's Designation Committee. "There are folks we've heard from who are looking for spaces like 1900 Young to use for different things that don't require parking but are good for archival purposes, and I think there are uses for it."

That said, Seale's not entirely opposed to it -- but, for now, plans remains more conceptual than actual, so it's very much wait-and-see.

Weigand says "perhaps" an amphitheater would go there, and in a letter sent to Landmark he wrote that he envisions an "open space" for "gatherings and social activities." All he wants, he says, is some "flexibility" given the fact First Presbyterian is guaranteeing the safety and preservation of 508 Park, by far the more historic of the properties.

"The Glazers wanted to take both down," he says. "Hopefully, First Presbyterian is seen as the savior of a building that's languished for all these years, and the city gives us the flexibility we need. There's a great opportunity for a renaissance down there. We're putting $14 million into the area with a new playground, a new garden and and a new entrance way. We've been down there for 100 years and aren't going anywhere."

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