At its next regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 3, the Auburn City Council will vote on whether to commit to spending upwards of $1 million to move the historic Cullars house to a city park.
The house — built in 1893 by the Cullars family — sits on property at the corner of Samford Avenue and South College Street that was purchased by developer Orange Auburn LLC in 2017 for $4.85 million.
The developer plans to demolish the house, but is willing to allow the city or an individual in the private sector to move it within a limited time window, according to City Manager Jim Buston, who said that if the City Council wishes to save the house, the city would need to let the developer know by Sept. 30. It then would have a 60-day period in which to move the house, during which the developer may charge the city rent, possibly $4,000 a month, Buston added.
A public hearing will be held on Sept. 3, so residents in support or opposition of the city using tax dollars to move the house will have an opportunity to speak to the issue before the council.
While the full cost of investing in the Cullars house is unknown, Buston said it could easily reach $1 million.
"Bottom line, if the council is of the mind to move the house ... it would cost us somewhere in the neighborhood of $700,000 to $1 million. To move the house only would probably be around $100,000 to $200,000," Buston said. "But the big expense is putting the house back together again, and then once the house is together, updating it and upgrading it to usable is where the most expense is."
The house would have to be split into multiple parts, and a foundation would be built at its future location on which the house would be put back together. If it is moved to a park, the city would likely use it as an event space, similar to the Nunn-Winston House at Kiesel Park.
In a report from Buston to the council, Kiesel Park and Town Creek Park are listed as two viable options for possible relocation. The report also provided information about private-sector individuals the city had reached out to and about possible route options for moving the house.
During Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting, council members expressed their desire to hear input from residents on this issue.
"This is taxpayer money. We're talking about spending $1 million to move a house. A million dollars would go a long way in some of the neighborhoods in Auburn," said Councilman Tommy Dawson, adding that this could be something to leave to the private sector to take care of. "But however, if we get more people in favor of the city moving it, I would certainly be open to the idea, but I really want to hear from the public before making a decision."
Mayor Ron Anders encouraged residents to reach out to the council via email, phone or by coming to speak at the public hearing on Sept. 3. He also encouraged any private sector individuals interested in saving the home themselves to reach out to the city.
If the council votes to move forward with saving the home, the funding would likely be stretched over multiple fiscal years, Buston said.
"It may be a two-year project," he said. "So, instead of moving $1 million to one year, it might be $500,000 a year, so if we move it now, we could adjust FY20 of around $500,000. We just have to look at what the total expenses would be."
He added that to accommodate the project, other smaller projects or a portion of a larger project may be pushed back to FY2021 or 2022.
In the recent past, the city has assisted with funding projects that preserve and renew historic buildings, like The Depot and Wittel Dorm. The difference between those two and the Cullars home is those projects will pay for themselves over time since they have been converted into revenue-producing businesses — a restaurant and boutique hotel and bar, respectively. Buston said that using the Cullars home as an event space in a city park would not allow the city to pay back the expenses of relocating the home.