A special City Council meeting has been called in an effort to resolve ongoing issues with a beleaguered downtown building.
Representatives from both the Rammelkamp Bradney Law Office and Jacksonville Main Street spoke during Monday’s regular City Council meeting about the fate of the Lair Building located at 234 West State Street.
More than a year ago, the rear portion of the building collapsed causing extensive damage to the connected Rammelkamp Bradney building to the east. Since then the City of Jacksonville has amassed liens of more than $200,000 for work the city has done to raise the collapsed portion and secure the area as well as the main building.
Rammelkamp Bradney has since come to a purchase agreement with the current owner of the Lair Building. The law firm intended to renovate the entire building to make it safe and expand its offices into the first floor.
In September Allen Yow with Rammelkamp Bradney submitted a request for $500,000 in TIF grant funding from the city toward the estimated $1 million they say it will take for the project. The city approved $100,000 of the request due to four other submissions coming in at that time, along with the city’s TIF fund having closer to $460,000 in total available.
Koert Bown with Rammelkamp Bradney spoke to the council Monday night and said they were very unhappy to find that a decision on their request for the city to either provide the matching $500,000 for renovation or to issue a demolition permit was not on the agenda.
During the previous council meeting, Brown said that the law firm would purchase the building and either renovate it if the $500,000 was made available or tear it down at its own expense if the city would release the liens and issue the permit.
Mayor Andy Ezard said that Jacksonville Main Street had requested an audience with the mayor after that meeting, and then requested a decision be put off for two weeks until the 28th to see if anyone else had interest in saving the building.
Board member for Jacksonville Main Street Tom Grojean says, Main Street simply wants a little more time to see if the building that dates back to the 1870s can avoid the wreaking ball.
“We’re a preservation-based non for profit that has worked in the city of Jacksonville for in excess of twenty years. I watched the fifty buildings go down in 1973 in downtown Jacksonville and we’ve had a few since then of course.
And all we want to do is make sure we have turned every last stone over to see if there’s not a viable party or group of people, that would take the building over, bring it to a satisfactory condition that is safe for the city. Would take it off the city’s hands from a legal point of view, take title, the risk away from the neighbors and allow that building to be put back in service.”
Brown says Rammelkamp Bradney isn’t trying to strong-arm anyone or had the intention from the beginning to tear down the building, but now that over a year has passed since the collapse, they have tried every avenue in their power to help make the building safe.
“Our initial proposal that we made was okay, have the city get this thing squared away and they pay to make the repairs to the roof, everything you need to get it structurally sound and then we’ll come in and do what we need to with it, but that wasn’t acceptable at that point.
So we went down the route of getting all of the costs of the project because it is a lot cheaper for a private party to do something than the city. And we just haven’t been able to get there, and it’s coming to the point that we just can’t keep waiting any longer.”
Brown says he understands both the city and Main Street’s positions on the matter. “The real issue that we are trying to bring out here is it’s a question of economics. So we get it that the money’s not there, and throughout this process, it’s not necessarily our position that the city should spend five hundred thousand dollars on it. That’s why we’ve tried to open up options.
We’re not trying to back anybody into a corner. But that building has been largely vacant for fifteen years. And if you look at the building itself, I think you have to ask yourself, is this a historical building? Comparatively to everything else we have downtown, is it?”
Grojean says he and Main Street absolutely appreciate the position Rammelkamp Bradney is in with sharing a common wall with the Lair Building. He says they just want to have enough time to follow up on interest in the building before it comes down.
“If we don’t have an alternative, we will take this off the agenda. We just ask for two more weeks until the 28th to come up with that alternative. There is some interest. whether it’s viable interest, whether they can afford it, I don’t know. But we want to make sure every stone is turned before the demolition permit is granted.”
After discussion among the council members Monday night on the two requests, the council agreed and Mayor Ezard has set for a special meeting to be held at 5:30 pm next Monday, November 21st for discussion and possible action on Rammelkamp Bradney’s demolition permit request.