By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times
It’s not every day that someone walks up and offers you what amounts to half a city block of prime real estate, free and clear.
But that’s exactly what the family of longtime Hanceville business woman Faith Hammock has done. The city took possession of the gift — a 5,000 square-foot, six-suite office and retail building in the heart of the city’s downtown — with no strings attached.
Well, almost no strings:
“I told them they have to rename it the Joann Walls Center, and they have to allow me to use one little room of it for two years — just to store furniture — and that’s it,” said Hammock, whose ongoing family ties to Hanceville date to a time before the town had even been incorporated.
The city council had no trouble complying with the family’s wishes. Walls, whose term on the council ended Nov. 5, said she was surprised and humbled to be honored with a namesake municipal building.
“I was totally shocked — shocked and just so very grateful — not only for being recognized in that way, but for the wonderful gift that this building really is to our city,” she said.
“If you don’t know much about Faith and her family, and about all they have done over the years to invest in Hanceville and give back to the city, let me just say this: Every town needs a ‘Faith’ — they really do.”
Hammock, who disclosed a Guntersville-based appraiser had recently assessed the building’s market value at $340,000, said she’s hopeful the city council will find a way to use the space as a revenue generator for the city through the leasing of units to business tenants. If that’s a success, the increased business occupancy would go a long way toward reviving a once-bustling downtown, in the bargain.
Though its retail occupancy has flagged in recent years, Hammock said the building’s suites originally had filled with successful shops and restaurants, shortly after she remodeled the entire complex 10 years ago.
“When I bought it, it was run down — Lord, it was run down; it was in a mess,” she said. “We gutted it completely. I put in metal studs, all new sheet rock, all new flooring. Look at it — it’s a nice building, but for some reason, it just won’t ‘go.’ It bothers me that all these buildings in Hanceville are empty now. But I believe the city will be able to do something with it, and help fill the space and attract some business.”
The city council has designated a Realtor to market and negotiating rentals on the suites. Mayor Kenneth Nail said the city won’t be unduly encumbered by taking ownership of the property, and described the gift as the latest among many of the Hammock family’s contributions to Hanceville’s business and civic culture.
“The way I look at it is this: If everybody will do just a little bit — I mean, one-tenth — of what this lady’s family has done for this town over the years, there’s no telling the progress there could be in this town,” he said. “We’re really going to try to honor this gift to Hanceville and do everything we can to attract some businesses back into our downtown.”
Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.