Appearance of downtown Somerset is about to change. The city’s planned energy center-city hall, housed in a sprawling, glass-bedecked structure, will be a sparkling centerpiece in an historic district striving to revitalize for nearly a half century.
“It (energy center structure) may be a bit of architectural shock,” laughed Gib Gosser, executive director of Downtown Somerset Development Corporation. The building, designed by Brandstetter Carroll Inc., Lexington, will be modernistic, exuding grandeur.
“The energy center will be more modern than anything we have downtown,” said Gosser, who has guided a downtown revitalization program for nearly two decades with emphasis on preserving historical significance.
Gosser concedes practicality. “A building should look its age ... you can’t create history,” he suggested, attributing the comment to National Main Street Center, Inc., a newly formed, nonprofit subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The energy center, scheduled for a construction start in August, “ ... will remove a lot of blight, and that will help,” said Gosser. He mentioned what is commonly referred to as the Meece Hardware Building at 302 East Mt. Vernon Street and an adjacent building separated by a firewall that originally was Ben Mattingly’s Tire Store. The city owns both buildings that will be razed as part of an expansion of a parking lot on which the center will be built at the corner of East Mt. Vernon and College streets.
Old-timers can remember when the Meece Hardware building, constructed in 1941, was originally an A & P Store. The Ben Mattingly Tire Store structure, built in 1945, later housed Shamrock Glass.
“We need a new city hall,” said Gosser. A Somerset historian, Gosser pointed out that the current city hall was converted in 1951 from an old tire-retreading shop.
“It’s been remodeled several times ... the (electrical) wiring is terrible,” Gosser said. The structure is honeycombed with offices accessed by narrow passageways. “It definitely needs to be replaced,” he added.