Merrimon-Wynne house reopens with a full dance card

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 21, 2014 

— The historic Merrimon-Wynne House will hold its first social functions in years later this month, breathing new life into a sleepy stretch of North Blount Street lined with elaborate houses.

Vacant since it was moved in 2008, Jodi Strenkowski has spent the past six months turning the 150-year-old home, vacant since it was moved in 2008, into a modern venue for weddings and other events.

“It sets up really well for garden weddings in downtown,” Strenkowski said.

The renovation effort has opened up the first floor for the flow of a large party, adding modern bathrooms and a catering kitchen in the back. Strenkowski bought the vacant lot next door to build a 3,200-square-foot patio to hold large tent events.

Strenkowski says she’s hit surprisingly few setbacks in the renovation process. Termites had damaged a section of hardwood flooring, and a historic preservation board limited some of the proposed changes to the building, but otherwise the work has sped along since breaking ground in June.

Despite having been moved from its original site across from William Peace University, “it was in remarkable shape,” she said. “It’s such a testament to the way these homes are built.”

Strenkowski got the idea for the event venue while planning her own wedding last year. In Charleston, S.C., there were plenty of historic sites for brides to choose from, but Raleigh had little to offer despite its large number of grand old homes.

She figured there’d be a big demand for a historic venue here, and so far, the numbers prove her right. Without doing any advertising, the Merrimon-Wynne House is already booked for 36 events in 2014.

“The weddings have been coming really quickly,” Strenkowski said.

But while the Merrimon-Wynne site will soon be a hub of activity, its neighbors on North Blount Street won’t have much going on. That’s because most of the other historic homes there are still owned by state government, which hasn’t decided what to do with them.

The developer behind the Blount Street Commons had to scale back its original 21-acre project that called for renovating 25 historic homes while building up to 495 condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes and up to 110,000 square feet of shops.

The developer broke off its contract and state government has spent the past year or so mulling options for the homes.

“We’re still evaluating the options there,” said Chris Mears, a spokesman for the Department of Administration. “The state is flexible regarding what options are available. A big question on a lot of this is do we want to sell individual parcels or an entire block?”

In the meantime, many of state government’s historic homes in the neighborhood will get a fresh coat of paint and roofing repairs in the coming months, Mears said.

One of the most striking homes on Blount, the Heck-Andrews House at the corner of Blount and North, is undergoing upgrades for further use by the state.

If and when the state is willing to sell some of the houses, Strenkowski hopes her success will lead to more restorations in the neighborhood.

“I hope that this will inspire people to see that although this is a challenge, it’s possible and (can be done) in a short period of time,” she said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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