Less than two months ago, the Koozies building at 455 Franklin St. in Mount Airy stood as a hulking reminder to its past prominence — reduced to a crumbling safety hazard that posed ongoing headaches to city officials.
Today, however, an empty lot graces the site that also borders North South and West Pine streets, thanks to the efforts of one man: Bobby Koehler, whom those officials have honored for going above and beyond to benefit the community.
This included a city government resolution of recognition being prepared citing Koehler for his accomplishments in not only buying the former Koozies property in August but having the structure razed.
“Within days of the purchase, demolition began to remove the dilapidated and unsafe building,” Mayor Ron Niland said in reciting the wording of the resolution when it was presented last week during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
Koehler, who owns and operates Ultimate Towing and Recovery, was unable to attend that meeting, with Shannon Phipps, an employee of the local business, on hand to accept the document on his behalf.
The structure in question once housed a thriving Quality Mills facility in its heyday and more recently a private club called Koozies — the name it came to be known by in later years.
With that entity long since vacating the premises, the building deteriorated over time — its condition neglected by a firm in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, which became its owner. Eventually the facility was condemned by the city government as unfit for occupancy due to its unsafe condition.
“The building was vacant and in total disrepair,” the resolution states.
In February, the city commissioners issued a 90-day ultimatum to the owner to either correct the code violations or have the building torn down. After that date, it faced the possibility of the municipality then doing so and seizing the land left behind to help pay the cost of that.
As things were coming to a head in that regard, Koehler stepped in and acquired the site, the mayor said further in reciting the resolution of recognition for the local business owner which refers to “his invaluable contribution” to the community.
Koehler demonstrated leadership in a way that enhanced the community and brought a positive change “over and above what is normally expected,” Niland said in relaying its wording.
The Ultimate Towing and Recovery owner, who had heavy equipment at the site for weeks, not only performed a valuable public service that is appreciated by citizens and visitors to Mount Airy alike.
“He also saved the city a bunch of money in terms of trying to do it ourselves,” the mayor said of the demolition.
“It took the board to enforce that action,” Niland said, “and he stepped up when needed.”
With the 1.34-acre site now cleared, its future use seems to be an open book.
“The next step is in Bobby’s hands,” the mayor said Friday of the property.
“He has the option to try to develop that — or he could sell it,” Niland added.
Housing is one of the possibilities that has been mentioned. “That would be up to Bobby,” the mayor said.
Niland pointed out that it is his understanding the property presently is zoned to accommodate a variety of new uses, not only residential, but retail, office and other commercial activities.