The Wright way to renovation

The Wright Mansion at 47 E. Commerce St. in Smyrna is in need of significant restoration and bids are now being accepted. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

The Wright Mansion at 47 E. Commerce St. in Smyrna is in need of significant restoration and bids are now being accepted. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

SMYRNA — Town of Smyrna officials are proactive about restoring the prominently situated Wright Mansion, landing a grant and seeking building proposals to make it happen.

Outwardly, the property at 47 E. Commerce St. appears fit for use, which belies needed refurbishment developing after years of emptiness.

Built in the 1870s by prominent local business owner Wilson Wright, the mansion sits on the corner of a main artery connecting U.S. 13 to the bustling downtown area; many local residents frequently travel past it, along with visitors to the growing town of 11,000 residents.

The town owns the property of less than half an acre and envisions opportunity for commercial, office and/or residential use. Roughly $3,000 was spent for a project focused on “a structural assessment to determine the current condition of the property and to perform corrective action to protect the structure from the elements.”

The assessment money will be billed to the company that wins a bid to restore the property, and a $1,000 grant from the Preservation Delaware Fund will defray costs for the company.

Estimating initial repair costs at $30,000, the town is advertising a request for proposal that’s due by June 15 at 4:30 p.m.; officials are targeting June 30 as an award date.

Town Manager Dave Hugg said the winning bidder will take ownership of the property upon completion of repairs, while paying the repair costs to the town. Upwards of $100,000 or more are needed to make the mansion habitable.

Wright Mansion has been on the verge of extinction in recent years, and officials said a nearby automobile dealership considered turning the property into a parking lot.

According to Mr. Hugg in a grant request letter to the Preservation Delaware Fund, “areas of soffit (underside of construction) are known to be missing and the traditional box gutters can lead to rapid deterioration if not properly maintained.

“In reality, it has been a number of years since this property has been in the hands of an owner who is interested in protecting the structure and promoting its historical value.”

‘Surprisingly good shape’

In its request for proposal application, the town described an early spring walk-through of the building revealing “that much of the interior is intact and (in) surprisingly good shape.”

With Mr. Hugg, KCI Technologies staff inspected the mansion on March 24, and “found the overall condition to be significantly better than expected,” according to a report.

Smyrna Town Manager Dave Hugg stands inside the Wright Mansion’s east parlor room on Friday morning. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Smyrna Town Manager Dave Hugg stands inside the Wright Mansion’s east parlor room on Friday morning. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

“The overall condition appears to be sound with little evidence of water intrusion throughout the building. The roof has been covered with a metal roofing system that has acted very well to protect against the elements.

“The moisture damage that was observed was limited to humidity and the lack of climate control over recent years, which resulted in peeling paint and some minor buckling of wood floor overlays.”

KCI noted two “modern air handlers” in the attic and basement and “Both units appear to be gas-fired burners with insulated return-air piping.”

The mansion’s interior included clutter from personal belongings left behind, and KCI said “it appears vandals had attempted to remove a hot water radiator from the second floor.

“Damage was also noted to a fireplace mantel piece in the main parlor. The exterior is also cluttered with debris and the detached garage is nearly full with remaining personal belongings. The condition of the garage was not assessed, although no immediate issues were noted.”

During a Friday morning tour, several liquor bottles, dozens of cigarette butts and packs, and mattresses were evident throughout the mansion; a newspaper from nearly three years ago was seen strewn about, and a well-decayed cat carcass lay on the floor.

KCI recommended securing the outside of the mansion and placing new locks on all doors while confirming that window locks are sufficient. Also, deteriorated wall plaster on the second floor was in need of removal for safety concerns.

Revitalizing the property

The town of Smyrna acquired the property during a sheriff’s sale in November 2015. In the request for proposal, a $21,000 appraisal value was listed.

The town believes the project will be eligible for historic tax credits, along with vacant building incentives that lower the electric utility charge by 50 percent for six months, waive impact fees, and capped building permit fees. Also, officials can waive any or all tax, charge, fee, obligation and/or duty owed to the town.

Officials are unsure of the effect of converting Wright Mansion into apartments in the late 1970s to early 1980s had on the building’s structure. Most recently, a private program utilized the mansion to house inmates recently released from the Delaware Department of Correction, Mr. Hugg said.

The mansion refurbishment is part of the town’s revitalization plan hatched in 2009 and designed to give the four corners at Main and Commerce streets a look resembling the early 1900s. The town’s Redevelopment Authority has added guidance in the push for responsible development.

Mr. Hugg said the streetscape push has been a success.

“This project had sparked numerous redevelopment projects and energized businesses in the downtown area.”

Mr. Hugg described the Wright Mansion as “an important piece of Smyrna history.

“Built by Wilson Wright, a prominent local business owner, the house was a showpiece displaying the capabilities of the company responsible for supplying a majority of the lumber and materials to the booming town population.”

Restoring historical heritage

Wright Mansion was the continuation of a series of purchases made by the town of Smyrna, including recent lots converted into the Drunk’n Bakery at 1 N. Main St. and The Inn at Duck Creek at 2 N. Main St..

“Both projects included buildings that were vacant and in need of repair, and both are now being restored and re-purposed for commercial and residential uses,” Mr. Hugg said.

Mr. Hugg said the town believes the Wright Mansion project “presents another opportunity for the town to help restore our community’s historical heritage.”

Town officials describe Smyrna as a “business growth market” that’s “strategically located and proximate to other Delaware communities.” Smyrna is 12 miles north of Dover and 30 miles south of Wilmington.

“ … Smyrna can provide access to a large number of quality customers,” the request for proposal maintained, with a population of 24,794 within a 10-minute drive, 116,650 within 20 miles and 229,918 within 30 minutes.

“Moreover, the town of Smyrna is upgrading its physical and technological infrastructure in order to prepare for growth demands in advance of the need.”

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