STUART — A shabby little building on the outskirts of the city is moving to Albany Avenue for a makeover and a new purpose.
The historic Walton building will be restored and repurposed into a takeout restaurant by a local business owner. It was moved in 2016 to Decker Avenue from its original home since 1926 on Akron Avenue.
The building was supposed to move back to downtown Stuart after 90 days, but the deal fell through with the owner of the Albany Avenue lot. Now, four years later, the Walton will finally have new purpose.
“It’s an economic reuse of a historical property and I think that’s a win-win,” Mark Brechbill, business consultant and the current owner of the Walton building, said at last week’s commission meeting.
In 1907, the Bentel family bought the vacant plot of land off Dixie Highway for $125. About two decades later, Fred Walton, a contractor and builder leased the land from the Bentels. He built the Walton there in 1926 as an office building for his construction company.
Walton was also the builder for the third iteration of the Lyric Theatre and the Hibiscus Apartments, which were demolished in 2019 and replaced with Azul Apartments — a three-story luxury apartment complex by the same developers of the Stuart Triangle apartments.
“Too many historic buildings … they’ve already had their past destroyed solely because they were old,” said Alice Luckhardt in her presentation to city commissioners last week. “This building has age, it has history and can continue to provide purpose to the local citizens.”
The Walton building has worn many hats: it’s been an office, beauty salon, beauty shop, deli, vegan restaurant and burger restaurant. It was abandoned and relocated in 2016.
For its future, Sue Parks, a Stuart resident and founder of Stuart Segway Tours, envisioned a stylish takeout restaurant, selling root beer floats and cheeseburgers.
“My plans are to make it like an old-time café,” said Parks. She pictured a small menu of breakfast and lunch items for locals to stop by on their wanderings through Stuart. “I’m really excited about it.”
Parks is renting the Walton building from the property owner, Brechbill, but they are holding off on establishing the specifics of the lease until the restoration of the building is complete. She said assuming there are no delays, she’s hoping to complete renovations and be ready to open by January.
The city commission voted 3-2 last week to allow Brechbill to move the Walton from city-owned property to his own property on Albany Avenue. The building sat rent-free on the city’s land a few years past the original 90-day deadline, which Tom Reetz, the senior development planner for Stuart, called “water under the bridge.”
Commissioners added a caveat to their vote: if Brechbill didn’t get the permits required for the move within 90 days, the city could dispose of the building as it sees fit.
Mayor Mike Meier and Commissioner Merritt Matheson voted against the Walton building’s relocation, citing concerns about the building’s lack of shade, parking and restroom availability. Matheson was also concerned about the site plan’s violation of the city’s development code requiring public art on site.
“I don’t question the value, the historic value of the building,” Meier said at last week’s meeting. “But it seems to me like the idea ‘we want to preserve the building’ … and it’s like ‘Here’s a place to put it. Let’s put it here.’ “
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