Old digs, new outlook

Old digs, new outlook

September 7th, 2010 by Ellis Smith in Businesstopstory

Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Stief Counts speaks about the historic Burchay Building that he recently purchased with the intention of restoring it. The property is on the 800 block of Market St. in downtown Chattanooga.

Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

The 19th century Burchay's building in the 800 block of Market Street has passed into a new set of hands, the latest in a long line of owners to make use of the narrow, three-story structure that could be worth nearly $2 million once renovations are complete, said Gina Sakich, a broker for Real Estate Partners.

Stief Counts, a builder who worked on projects at the Tennessee Aquarium and Museum Bluffs, purchased the 1,500-square-foot building in August for an undisclosed sum from the Maclellan Foundation, according to Sakich, who represented Counts in the sale.

The one-time bank was later used as a flower shop, and it even was a saloon during prohibition that prospered from "brisk traffic," Sakich said.

After trying to acquire the building for four years, Counts plans to restore it to its former glory, he said, though he doesn't yet know how it will look or how long the restoration could take to complete.

"I just want to fix the building and keep with the original architecture," Counts said. "Hopefully along the way we'll figure out something neat to do with it."

Designed for bank

The Burchay's building was completed in 1890 as a Samuel Patton-designed Merchants National Bank built in the then-popular Richardsonian Romanesque style, according to Ann Gray, executive director of Cornerstones, a historic preservation group.

It was occupied by several businesses after the bank folded, including a music studio and a savings and loan, before Edwin Burke, a furrier from Manchester, England, took over the structure in 1932.

The name, Burchay's, is actually an invention, rather than a true name. It arose, Gray said, when Burke combined his last name with the last name of his mentor and father-in-law, Louis Chajage, though the "y" at the end comes from neither name.

Burchay's went dark in 2000, and Chattanooga Land Co. took over the structure, attempting to restore it to its former stature through a lease with Cornerstones, according to those involved.

The rear half of the building was torn away to make room for a parking lot, and plans called for the rest of Burchay's to become a mixed-use structure.

When renovators analyzed the building to determine its structural integrity, they also discovered notes from World War II, old fireplaces and other traces of former occupants, Gray said.

But the deal fell apart over a contract dispute a year after workers had begun to stabilize the old brick walls, said architect Garnet Chapin, who was charged with the renovation and planned to move into the building when it was finished.

Foundation's role

"It was within a couple of months of being ready for occupancy, with a whole new stairwell, fire escape, roof, balcony and gutters," Chapin said.

The building then lay in a state of partial disrepair for several years.

The Maclellan Foundation acquired the parking lot and building from the Chattanooga Land Co.

"Cornerstones contacted Maclellan Foundation to keep the property standing, and they've always written back and they've said that they don't have any plans for it," Gray said.

Now that Counts has purchased the building, he plans to make sure its future won't fall into uncertainty again.