CORNELIUS, N.C. -- An ongoing battle over an eyesore in Cornelius has neighbors offering a solution they hope doubles as a bit of a wow-factor and builds the area into an arts district.
The old brick building at 21314 Catawba Avenue currently is boarded up with plywood, and has a tarp covering an exposed roof. It was built in the early 1900s, according to owner Ralph Harlan.
Over the years, the building has been a dime store, candy shop, butcher shop and consignment store, Harlan said. It has been empty for a while.
"Yes, it's an eyesore,” said neighbor Case Warnemunde, who owns Bella Love Studios across the street. "This is something that needs to be addressed sooner than later."
Harlan says he's trying. He hired a brick mason, but says the mason backed out, so he's restoring the original brick by himself.
Harlan says that put him way behind, and that isn’t making Cornelius town leaders happy.
Harlan says he's now under a town-imposed December 4, 2013, deadline to fix the roof and enclose the stairway or have the town consider the building a nuisance and possibly tear it down.
Instead of hoping for demolition, Warnemunde and his Cornelius Cultural Arts Group came up with an idea to help Harlan: fake it and help replace the weathered plywood with a large mural of a French bistro.
"Environment is everything, aesthetics are everything, perception is reality,” Warnemunde said.
Local artist Elie Bou Zeidan is painting the mural for free. He got the idea of the bistro while looking at the storefront with Warnemunde.
"That's a good solution, so he can take his time, find a solution. It's good for the town because the town will see something pretty on the street,” Bou Zeidan said.
"It's going to trick people as they are going by, they are going to be so confused wondering what, why they haven't noticed this trendy bistro here the whole time, and it’s going to draw more attention to an already popular area,” Warnemunde said.
Warnemunde wants that stretch of Catawba Avenue to become the town's art district. Once completed and installed, it will be the first mural in Cornelius, Warnemunde said.
Harlan hopes the quaint French bistro buys him time to meet his upcoming deadline, apply for another one for the interior and keep working and save his building.
Cornelius Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant says Harlan has had a permit for two years, but during that time frame, most of the work was not completed and the condition of the building has deteriorated and will continue to deteriorate unless it is properly fixed.
The town recently approved an encroachment permit with a time limit of six months for Harlan to repair the roof and stairwell.
The mural is expected to go on the front of Harlan’s building in about a month.