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story.lead_photo.caption David Peavy shows where renovation work is being done to the old Ritchie Grocery building in downtown Texarkana. Photo by Joshua Boucher / Texarkana Gazette.

Reviving one of Texarkana's oldest buildings is a challenge David Peavy does not underestimate.

"It's impossible. No one can do this. It's impossible to do," he said Wednesday at the warehouse he's renamed 1894 City Market, known for decades as the Ritchie Grocery Building.

Gallery: BUILDING A DREAM

That isn't stopping him from pushing forward with a plan to turn the long-neglected structure at Front and Olive streets into a city gem.

"I really believe that within four years, this can be the No. 1 tourist site in Texarkana," he said, describing his vision of a mixed arts, business and residential space that would be a cornerstone of downtown redevelopment.

If he succeeds, monthly trade days will bring artisans and shoppers together where once wholesalers stacked boxes of produce. The Olive Street loading dock will become a stage where performers entertain visitors to Front Street Plaza. Artists will display their work in galleries above a basement "speakeasy." Thirteen apartments will make living downtown fashionable, and a restored railroad lounge car will be the city's coolest coffee shop.

Perhaps most importantly, the heart of Texarkana will once again thrive.

"I believe if we can save this building, it will give people courage to invest in some of these other buildings," Peavy said, citing the soon-to-be-restored Hotel Grim as another "anchor" of a downtown revival.

And it's already working, boosting neighborhood property values. When he started his renovation, the asking price of one nearby building shot up from $110,000 to $210,000, he said.

A lifelong resident of Texarkana, Ark., Peavy has been co-owner of local electrical contractor Artex Electric since he and his brother bought the business from his father in 1987. He has dabbled in real estate since the early 1990s, including buying property behind Naaman's Championship BBQ on North State Line Avenue.

A trade day he established there, called Pecan Grove Market, was where his path to the Ritchie Grocery Building began. When Ina McDowell, executive director of Main Street Texarkana, suggested he move the market downtown, he took a look around and noticed the building's potential.

A little detective work was required to identify its owners, a Plano, Texas, couple who had been using the property for storage. Peavy approached them and closed the sale late last year.

It was the latest event in the building's 120-year-plus history, which like most of Texarkana's early past is bound to 19th-century railroad expansion.

With the Cairo and Fulton Railroad connecting Texarkana to Little Rock and points east, and the Texas Pacific Railroad stretching from here to California, fruit and vegetables from everywhere in the world became available to local grocers, Peavy said.

The Texas Produce Co. was one of several Texarkana wholesalers who capitalized on the new transportation infrastructure, constructing a warehouse in 1893 or 1894—Peavy prefers the even number—near the tracks at Front and Vine streets. Vine would later be renamed Olive Street to match its continuation on the Texas side.

Texas Produce operated there until the Ritchie Grocery Co. bought the building in 1926. With the decline of family-run, independent grocery stores, Ritchie Grocery went out of business and sold the building in 1977.

An office furniture company operated there for some time thereafter, but the building was abandoned by 1990, when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Left unoccupied, it began the decline that Peavy is now determined to reverse.

From restoring the arched, floor-to-ceiling windows that let sunshine pour into top-floor lofts, to replicating the original, ornate drainpipes, Peavy is neglecting no detail as bit by bit he brings the building back to life.

"What I'm telling the craftspeople is, 'I don't want you to make things look old. I want it to look like it was put in in 1894, original,'" he said.

For example, thanks to a fireproofing paint that allows safety code compliance, the building's wooden floors can stay, preserving the spots where over the years tens of thousands of steps have bowed the slats. Workers use all the "wavy glass" they can, to keep the windows' original look. Peavy is also restoring the ornamental wrought iron brackets that once held up the building's awnings, and he is moving them up a couple of feet to their original position.

A final completion date is difficult to guess, but the first milestone is to complete and rent the building's five ground-floor and eight loft apartments to establish the cash flow that will facilitate further financing.

"I'll be disappointed if all the units are not occupied by the end of the year," Peavy said.

He plans to seek government investment, too, from the Arkansas-side Advertising and Promotion Commission, Miller County economic development programs, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Parks Service.

Continuing to piece together the financing puzzle is only one of the daunting obstacles between him and his goal. But despite it all, Peavy shows the optimism of a true dreamer.

"I think we can pull it together," he said, "even though it's impossible."

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The first Second Saturday Trade Days takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at 1894 City Market, Front and Olive streets downtown. Admission is free. Tours of the building will be offered hourly. For more information, visit 1894citymarket.com or call 870-772-5026.

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On Twitter: @RealKarlRichter

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