Lair Building Fate Could Depend on if City is Willing to Kick In More Funding

By Jeremy Coumbes on November 2, 2022 at 2:29pm

A deal for a neighboring law firm to purchase the Lair Building on West State Street may hinge on if the City of Jacksonville is willing and able, to kick in more funding.

Representatives of the Rammelkamp Bradney Law Offices attended the Jacksonville City Council Workshop session last week to continue the discussion on a request for TIF funding for renovation and expansion into the Lair Building, located at 234 West State Street.

The building made headlines in the area more than a year ago when the rear portion collapsed during the overnight hours of October 12th, that sent rubble falling through the roof of the adjacent law firm causing extensive damage to the interior space below.

The law firm has a tentative agreement in place with the current owners to purchase the building, which shares a common wall on the west side. Allen Yow with the firm requested $520,000.00 in TIF funds in September to renovate the building.

The TIF had approximately $468,000.00 total in available funds when Yow’s and four other requests for funding were submitted to the committee. The firm was awarded a grant for $100,000.00 which along with the other requests, left the TIF all but empty until the 2023 property taxes are paid.

The law firm is now requesting the additional funds after a subsequent application for a demolition permit was rejected. Koert Brown with Rammelkamp Bradney says they want to make sure the building is safe and another collapse won’t happen.

We’ve been willing to put forward a significant amount of money to facilitate that. So we submitted a TIF application that essentially said this project is going to be approximately a million dollars to complete and we are willing to spend up to five hundred thousand dollars to make that a viable project.

But if that is not acceptable, what we told the city is we are also willing to pay the costs to tear the building down if we have to. We’re not terribly thrilled to have to do that, but the alternative is just not acceptable.”

The city was forced to pay for the cleanup of the collapse, demolition of the remaining structure below, and securing both the area of the collapse and repairs to the main structure after the current owners signed off as unable to pay for any of the required work.

Currently, the city has nearly $200,000 in liens against the property for the work which remains ongoing. Brown says any agreement to purchase the building would have to be paired with an agreement by the city to release the liens against the property.

Community Development Director for the city, Brian Nyberg says he would like to see someone come in with the means to save the building instead of seeing it turned into a parking lot.

And I understand with the Rammelkamp Bradney group that this is going to take a lot of money to save this building. We were hoping that they would be able to do it. They are requesting TIF money to fix that roof and get to a position where it’s financially feasible for them to do it. And unfortunately, there were a lot of building owners that came at once for TIF money, and all that TIF money has been depleted.

So I understand that aspect of it, but on the other hand, we like to see buildings being saved if possible and unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot of money to do that. So I understand both sides of it.”

Nyberg says he agrees the Lair Building needs a new roof and the structure needs extensive work, but not a complete structural rebuild to make it safe. He says compounding the problem is the fact that the Rammelkamp building has no footings under its foundation and the shared common wall would make demolition even more complicated, and costly.

During the discussion, Ryan Byers with Rammelkamp Bradney said if the situation with the Lair Building continues to linger and another collapse could be imminent, then the firm would have no choice but to relocate and cause more vacancies along the block.

Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard says he and the council appreciated Rammelkamp Bradney’s presentation and ongoing discussion on the current state of the building. He says personally he would rather see the building saved and made viable again, however safety is his number one priority, and currently, any decision on the immediate future of the building is in the hands of the city council.

Ultimately it’s just, do we have the money? Can we help? If we don’t have the money do we walk away and the building’s down? And that’s the decision, and I respect that, but like I said moving forward, our TIF expires in a couple of years. I think we need to re-up that.

I feel strongly about that because West State is a big leg on the ending of our downtown renovation. And I think there’s so much potential and I think others on West State will agree with me and they will be active on requests. I think ultimately things will work out.”

Brown says he wants to stress that the law firm has been pleased with the city’s efforts to date in both work to secure the structure and in continued discussion on the building’s safety and future.

He says costs to tear down the Lair Building have been estimated at $170,000 for the demolition and $190,000 in construction to stabilize and repair the west wall of the firm. He says the law firm would then later build a private parking lot on the site.