There appears to be no future for a piece of Mexico Beach's history. The Parker House, a landmark homestead on U. S. Highway 98, is coming down. But the demolition isn't what city officials originally had in mind.
Its classic southern architecture seems a little out of place these days, but the house is full of memories. "We had a lot of Christmases [and] Thanksgiving dinners here," said William Parker Thursbay. "We spent a lot of family time together here... this is basically where I grew up."
Thursbay is the grandson of Charlie and Inky Parker, who built the house in the late 1940s. Charlie Parker founded Mexico Beach and served as the city's first mayor.
The office is now held by Al Cathey, the founder's nephew. "He put his life and soul into making Mexico Beach a special place," said Cathey.
The city bought the house and the 4.3 acres it sits on for $435,000 in July 2011. The plan was to convert it into a new city hall and replace the leaky, moldy building that housed municipal operations at the time. But a week after the deal closed, fire severely damaged the house. Repairs were planned, but city officials now say that's not feasible.
"In order to meet the current building codes and the [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements, it would be too expensive to build it back as it was," said Chris Hubbard, City Administrator. "We're looking now at a completely new structure in that location."
Since January 2011, the city has rented a former bank building for $1,300 per month, a fee that will double in January 2013. The Emergency Services Unit and Mexico Beach Police Department remain in the old municipal complex a few blocks away. The Public Works Department is headquartered in another part of the city.
"We're going to look at more of a complex that would house water, sewer [and] all of the municipal services, including the police department," said Cathey.
According to Hubbard, preliminary estimates are $432,000 to replace city hall and $810,000 for a 6,000 square foot facility if the public safety departments are included. The maximum amount that the city's insurance company will pay is $544,000, Hubbard said.
But no amount of money will replace what was lost to the fire. "It just breaks my heart to be inside this house and to know that it's going to be torn down," said Thursbay. "I wish that they could have done something different."
"It's sad in a way, but things change," said Cathey. "We're going to have some good pictures of [the Parker House] inside the new building."
Hubbard said funding above the amount not covered by the insurance settlement could come from a tax increase, tapping cash reserves or a bank loan. City officials hope to break ground by year end.