By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY March 15, 2002 Kaye and Norman Kerr wanted to turn a light bulb on in Liberty.
Driving from LaGuardia Airport to their second home in the Town of Callicoon, the Kerrs would drive through the streets of Liberty and look at the dingy storefronts.
But instead of a gloomy town fighting off the closure of more and more stores, what the couple saw was potential.
The Kerrs decided to move from their Miami Beach, Fla. home to Sullivan County, and they began tackling the dimmest spots of Liberty to touch them up, operating their company, Village Properties, out of a School Street storefront.
I made Norman promise we wouldnt work up here, Kaye said with a laugh, but we ended up doing it anyway.
Their latest project has been the well-publicized renovation of the old Woolworths building to bring the Family Dollar corporation to the village.
But the Kerrs may be most proud of the newest residential building in town 12 Chestnut Street.
The 1930s building was once a thriving doctors office. But the years had been unkind to the structure. The outside was decaying, and the once fresh white paint job had dirtied over the years to a nasty brownish color.
Water had poured through the windows to the point where wood from the walls could be pulled off in chunks.
But what Kaye Kerr first noticed about the building was its unique design. It was built in the art deco style common in Miami Beach, but rare in Sullivan County.
We kept driving by it, and I was intrigued by its unique design, charm and character, Kerr explained. To see an architectural design of that type up here was very different.
Dr. John Grant, one of the original doctors to practice in the building, passed away in 1996, leaving the building vacant. The Kerrs purchased it in 2000 and began its resurrection.
CTE Construction, the Lisbon, Ohio company which has been managing the majority of Village Properties projects, remodeled each room, working with a number of local contractors.
Old x-rays and medical charts found in the building were donated to the Sullivan County Museum and Cultural Center in Hurleyville or returned to the patients.
The workers repaired the water-damaged walls and replaced the majority of the windows, retaining some of the old art deco-style tilework in the bathrooms and some of the windows that were in better condition in keeping with the buildings charm. Even the original cedar-lined closets were restored.
Four high-end apartments were created by the time the workers were done with eight months of work, including two with their own private deck.
The fourth apartment will be used as office space for CTE unless the Kerrs can obtain a variance from the villages code preventing storefronts from being turned into apartments.
The Kerrs have also explored turning the ground floor into an art gallery or studio or possibly an art and frame shop.
Weve had a lot of calls and are looking at a variety of options, Kerr said.
The Kerrs painted the outside of the building a bright yellow, their way of brightening up the village.
We wanted it to be like turning on a light bulb in the village, Norman Kerr explained. There are too many dark, dull, dingy and dirty properties, and we wanted something bright and cheerful.
According to Kaye Kerr, decent apartments are desperately needed in the county, especially in the Liberty area.
As soon as the certificate of occupancy for the building is approved, the apartments will be opened up for rent. The building includes a downstairs garage, and Village Properties expects to install laundry facilities for its tenants.
The Kerrs expect to continue work on the building and at other locations around Liberty.
The site of the former Phils Supermarket on Main Street is the potential home of a new retail establishment, but the Kerrs could not yet disclose what company may come into the village next.
As for whether theyll tackle another apartment building, Kaye Kerr said, Im not so sure. Now that its done, its like a birthday cake to the village.