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April 22, 2013

Demolition puts strain on city’s finances

As another city building comes crumbling down, city officials are looking at ways to step up inspections and maintain the downtown area.

After the demolition of the building at 208 N. Sixth St., Building Commissioner Bill Drinkwine said he’s working with the city administration to establish a regular inspection schedule for the privately-owned properties. Because the building owners often aren’t able to manage their properties, each time a building has to be unexpectedly demolished, the city suffers financially, according to Community Development Director Chris Armstrong.

With 100- and 125-year-old buildings dotting the downtown area, Drinkwine said many could have structural problems in the future, especially if they’re vacated and not maintained by the property owners.

“They’re probably the most suspect to cause problems,” Drinkwine said.

The historic Greensfelder building at 313 E. Market St. collapsed Jan. 30 and was demolished after crews found that they could not stabilize the building. A two-story abandoned building at 212 Sixth St. collapsed Nov. 22, 2012, after a large fire.  

Drinkwine said they don’t have a regular building inspection schedule for the older properties, but with the recent building collapses, they’re planning to inspect them in the future.

“We have talked within the administration about setting up some inspections for the large buildings,” Drinkwine said.  

The problem, Drinkwine said, is that the buildings are privately owned, meaning that the owners and not the city are responsible for the property maintenance.

“The only thing the city can do is inspect and cite for violations,” Drinkwine said.  

Because of the private ownership, Armstrong said the city isn’t to be blamed for the need to demolish these buildings.

“I know a lot of people want to blame this administration because we’re just tearing things down,” Armstrong said. “But this has been years of neglect and we can’t be blamed for this.”

In fact, Armstrong said the city has run out of demolition money after the building collapses caused them to tear down more buildings than intended.

“It’s very costly,” Armstrong said. “It takes a lot of our labor away from things we intended on doing.”

With many privately-owned buildings, Drinkwine said the city will put a lien — a type of interest put in place to secure payment — on the house while they wait for the owner to pay. However, the owners of the collapsed properties often aren’t able to make payment, he said.

“A lot of times it just sits with a lien on it,” Drinkwine said.

If the owners do not pay, the city can pursue legal action to get properties or other assets from the owners, but often doesn’t get the money back, Drinkwine said.

Drinkwine said he had spoken to Manuel and Reinalda Loeza of Lombard, Ill., the owners of the building at 208 N. Sixth St., and they said they did not have the means to pay for the demolition.

“They have no interest in the building whatsoever,” Drinkwine said.

The building was set to be partially demolished Friday, but they delayed the demolition because of the weather. The top two stories were torn down Saturday and the rest is set to be demolished today. That’s in order to further stabilize the building, Drinkwine said.

As the city foots the bill for the demolition, that means that it’ll have to wait to tear down the rest of the condemned homes on their list to be demolished, Armstrong said.

“Unless we can get some money from someplace else, than that list just remains on hold,” Armstrong said.

The demolition of the downtown buildings also affects the area, according to Becki Harris, executive director of Logan’s Landing.

“When a building crumbles to the ground, it affects the appearance of the entire neighborhood,” Harris said.

George Franklin, code enforcement officer, said he also believes the city will suffer if more buildings are demolished.

“If something doesn’t change we’re going to end up with a downtown that’s not more than empty lots,” Franklin said.  

Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or caitlin.huston@pharostribune.com.

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