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A proposed deal between the Village of Baxter Estates and Shields Hardware could yield a new store on lower Main Street "being done by Christmas."

For most of the 1990s, village officials tried to cajole and/or pressure Shields Hardware - a/k/a Lower Main Street LLC - to jumpstart construction of a new hardware store on their vacant property across from the Port News office. The results included aborted starts and stops, construction plan approvals and denials, expired and renewed building permits, and a foundation cave-in that sent injured workers to the hospital.

It's June 2000 and still no store. Just a dusty lot with crumbling sidewalks and no curbs at the corner of Main and High streets.

Yes, we've said it before, but now there may be light on the horizon.

Some recent behind-the-scenes negotiations by Trustee Fred Nicholson and Village Attorney Christopher Prior with Shields point man Kevin Shields' and his counsel may have yielded a breakthrough, it was revealed at a June 19 meeting of the board of trustees.

"After construction starts," said Kevin Shields, "the building will be done in 100 days. We're talking about being done before Christmas."

Financing and other approvals are close to being in place, according to Shields' attorney Bruce Migatz. "From what the bank told," he said, "we're looking at three to four weeks for a closing date."

"Construction could start three to four weeks after closing," said Kevin Shields. "Probably like Sept. 1."

Shields will post $10,000 in escrow with the village to assure construction will begin - and continue - in a timely fashion. Mindful of past construction delays, the board wants Shields to put up $5,000 guaranteeing that the sidewalks and curbs will be done by Sept. 1 and another $5,000 that "substantial" construction will be under way by Nov. 15.

"If construction has not begun or is not ongoing by Dec. 1, the village has the right to consider the site abandoned and use the $5,000 to board up the site," said Migatz. That date was later amended to Nov. 15.

As a show of good faith, Shields offered -- and the village accepted -- to begin the underground utility connections for the new building now, so the planned re-paving of High Street won't have to be dug up in the fall.

Perhaps playing the "good cop/bad cop," Mayor John Weaver and Nicholson expressed safety concerns over the condition of the lot while warning that the village will do what it needs to protect the community.

"If that building is not standing by Nov. 15," said Nicholson, "we're going to put a fence up and secure that property."

After offering encouragement to Shields for working with the village during the application process, Weaver noted the unsafe conditions currently at the lot and that Baxter would act if necessary.

"The village," he said, "has the authority to protect that property."


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