Church gets OK to alter downtown building

Published 11:32 am Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Vicksburg Board of Architectural Review has given its OK to plans for a fire escape on the front of the former Regions Bank building, 825 Crawford St.

Vicksburg architect Kenneth Cook said the fire escape is part of the renovation plans for the building’s third floor to convert it to a parish activity center for St. Paul Catholic Church, which owns the building. He said plans for the third floor include a ballroom, kitchen, foyer, prayer room and storage space.

The board voted 5-0 for the plan Tuesday evening with board members Toni Langford, Dorwin Shields, Thurman Nelson Jr., Betty Bullard and Sue Seratt casting votes. Members Blake Teller, Doretha Gholson, Tom Pharr and Troy Weeks did not attend the meeting.

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The building — now referred to as Farrell Hall — was bought by St. Paul Catholic Church in 2010. Cook said the fire escape will be installed in the front of the building. He said attempts to work with owners of the adjacent properties to build the fire escape on the northern or eastern sides of the building were unsuccessful, forcing him to put the fire escape in the front.

“This is the old Peoples and Newman Building,” Cook said. “It was built in the 1940s. The building codes have changed since then to make buildings safer, and there is only one exit. We’re looking at up to 300 people on the third floor, and we need an additional exit. Sprinklers will also be installed.”

The fire escape will be in the corner of the building’s L-shaped front. It will rest on the second floor balcony with an extension that will drop to the ground.

“The fire escape will be built of anodized aluminum,” he said. “We’re going to try to paint it the color of the building so it won’t be so conspicuous. I chose aluminum because of the weight and low maintenance. The second floor balcony will be reinforced to handle the extra weight from the fire escape.”

For years, the building housed offices for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District. A bank has occupied the building since 1983, when Deposit Guaranty moved in. Deposit Guaranty was acquired by AmSouth bank in 2000. AmSouth and its branches were acquired in 2006 by Regions. Regions now leases the building’s first floor from St. Paul, Cook said.

St. Paul pastor Monsignor Patrick Farrell, for whom the building is named, said the church acquired the building because, “We had no place to hold activities. We have a beautiful church and an office, but no place to have any events. This will give us a place to hold gatherings or a parish supper.”