Former Clay Insurance building slated for conversion to offices

Published 3:40 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Mark Hall, CEO of Smithfield’s Hallwood Enterprises, is proposing to renovate and subdivide the former Clay Insurance building on Institute Street into two offices.

According to Hall, who purchased the roughly 1,500-square-foot storefront in mid-2020, the building was built in 1961 as a doctor’s office and later became the Clay Insurance Agency. When the late Bob Clay retired, the building sat vacant for nearly two decades and fell into disrepair.

Now, Hall says he’s working to bring the building back to life.

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Smithfield’s Planning Commission approved Hall’s site plan amendment and unanimously recommended the Town Council approve Hall’s application for a special use permit to construct a brick handicap-accessible ramp that would bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition to Town Council approval, Hall will need to get his designs approved by the town’s Board of Historic and Architectural Review, as the building is located in the heart of Smithfield’s historic district.

If the council or BHAR opposes the ramp, Hall says he and his design team have come up with an alternate design for a wheelchair lift.

Hall, in an email to The Smithfield Times, said he plans to begin interior renovations this month while he awaits the approval of his exterior designs.

One of the two office suites would total 1,102 square feet. The other would be smaller at 570 square feet. Hall says he already has tenants lined up to occupy the spaces, but says they’ve requested anonymity at present.

This isn’t Hall’s first effort to restore a semi-historic downtown Smithfield structure. In 2012 he purchased and renovated the circa-1939 Smithfield firehouse and converted it into a series of commercial storefronts and two second-floor apartments.

When Hall learned in 2021 of the impending sale of Main Street’s last remaining intact early 1900s canopy gas station to LSMP, a holding company for developer Joseph Luter IV’s now-approved Grange at 10Main subdivision at the western edge of the town’s historic district, he negotiated to instead buy the building himself and proposed renovations to restore and enhance its historic character.

Gimme Shelter, a nonprofit thrift store that benefits Isle of Wight County’s animal shelter, vacated the converted gas station in 2022 and reopened as Gimme Shelter’s Attic inside the multi-vendor Hamtown Mercantile. Since then, the gas station has sat vacant, but Hall says he’s continuing to meet with potential tenants. 

Hall says he still plans to complete extensive renovations at the gas station once an occupant is found.