In two to three weeks, a team of architects from Waterleaf Architects in Portland will be in Enterprise to begin preliminary scoping work on the old Enterprise Mercantile and Milling building located just north of the county courthouse.

The old EM & M building has been taken on as a renovation project by the Enterprise Hometown Improvement Group.

Waterleaf will be working off of a $100,000 grant EHIG received last year from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development block grants program.

Waterleaf Project Manager Bill Bailey has already been in Enterprise twice during the month of February visiting with EHIG Director Wendy Hansen and viewing the old building which was begun in 1916, delayed by World War II and completed in 1923.

Waterleaf's role will be to assess what assets now exist in the large edifice, explore options for the future and determine which of those options are economically feasible. The creation of a small theater or performance hall is one possibility which will be considered. The evaluation team will consider structural, mechanical, electrical, and historic features, plus check for hazardous materials in the building.

The structure is three stories high with a basement underneath. It now hosts a number of businesses at the ground level and boasts as many as 26 apartments. Most of the apartments are unoccupied. Much of the basement space is used for storage.

When it was first built the mercantile was designed as a mezzanine with the second story overlooking the mercantile floor. That was changed in 1929, said Bailey, when apartments were built into the upper floors. It was in 1929 during the Great Depression that the Enterprise Mercantile and Milling Company went into bankruptcy.

Part of Waterleaf's study, one of several steps in a process conceptualized by EHIG members, will be to determine how many and what types of businesses could be drawn to the complex.

Though renamed in 1993, Waterleaf Architecture has evolved from an architectural firm that is in its 51st year of existence. It employs 18 people, including eight registered architects.

Bailey anticipates that the scoping process will last for six months.

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