(July 2016) – Just two days shy of the two-year anniversary of the fire that ultimately resulted in the destruction of five downtown Murray buildings, one of the businesses impacted established a new beginning in the same place Thursday morning.
The Peel & Holland insurance firm, whose building at the corner of South Fifth and Maple streets, was the final of the five to be demolished, formally broke ground for a building that will mark its return to that location and make whole again the west side of the court square.
“I’m reminded of a statement from Andy Grove of the Intel corporation. He said that, ‘Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.’ I think this is following that idea,” said Peel & Holland President/CEO Roy Riley during a ceremony attended by numerous community and business leaders. “We are excited to be coming back to downtown and are excited to be part of what we think is an exciting time for downtown.”
Riley also went back nearly two years to the pre-dawn hours of July 23, 2014 and how he learned of the fire from a phone call, telling him that the building next door to the Peel & Holland facility was ablaze. He also recalled the emotional roller-coaster ride that followed.
“As I’m driving down Main Street, it became obvious that this wasn’t a small fire. I had to park (well away from the fire area), and when I got there, my first thoughts were, ‘There is no way they’ll be able to save our building,’” he said. “Then I remember the firefighters and how determined they were. They used a million gallons of water to save our building, and I remember feeling relieved knowing that we were prepared for this, and we would be open at 7 o’clock that morning. I remember feeling relieved knowing our building would survive, then (several weeks later) the ultimate sadness when we found out it had been damaged too badly to survive.”
Now, that sadness and the more than a year of yearning to come back to the square has changed.
“Welcome home!” exclaimed Murray Main Street Inc. Manager Deana Wright at the end of her speech at the ceremony. “This is just a huge thing for our downtown and we’re looking forward to seeing the construction get started.”
Riley said the building will measure 9,000 square feet, which is much larger than the original design. This will mean that the west side of the court square along Fifth Street will be restored to nearly whole. The single building will occupy the same space as not only its former location but also the Profiles hair salon and Wilson’s Florist locations that were destroyed in the blaze.
Also destroyed was the office of the Thurman Campbell Group accounting office, which also housed the Wizard of Sportscards business in a large building along Maple that was connected to the Profiles and Wilson’s location. Eventually, a small building on Maple next to Peel & Holland that housed a pair of businesses had to be demolished after being declared unsafe. The result has been a large empty space. One person who said he will be glad to see that space filled is Calloway County Judge/Executive Larry Elkins, whose office is across the street in the Calloway County Courthouse.
“This wall (the side of the Embers restaurant/bar) is the first thing I see every day,” Elkins said of how that building leads to the empty space. “It’s going to make my days get off to a better start to see that no longer there. “I hope your commitment (speaking directly to Riley) encourages others to want to come downtown and establish here.”
Elkins, along with City of Murray Mayor Jack Rose, both offered praise for accountant Mike Pierce for keeping his business downtown. That office is inside the former Ezell’s Cosmetology School on Maple that received major water damage, but did survive.
“You also had Profiles staying downtown (moving to Third Street) and I think, with those businesses choosing to do that, you saw some incentive established,” Rose said, remembering how Riley told him he was committed to returning to the square. “From our first conversations, there was never any question that he wanted to do that. What (Peel & Holland’s return) will do now I think is really tell any prospective business owners that this is a place for them to set up, and there are still vacant buildings here where they can do that.”
Riley also said that the return to downtown (Peel & Holland has operated from a small office space on KY 121 North since the fire) is also going to prove quite advantageous in several areas. “We’re out of space,” he said of how the Murray staff has been spread to satellite locations in Benton and Mayfield, which has helped ease overcrowding somewhat. “What’s interesting is that right before the fire, we were in negotiations with the building owner to claim more space in the upstairs portion. We have six full-time employees right now but we need space for 15.
“The reason we were needing the upstairs room is for an intern program we have had with Murray State University. In the last two years, we’ve had four of those interns become full-time employees with us so that just goes with the idea of keeping our people here.”
Source: Murray Ledger & Times, July 22, 2016