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City ready to take action on Walnut Towers

From left, city building inspector Charles James, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, city attorney Nancy Thomas and Mayor Laurence Leyens discuss the condition of Walnut Towers Tuesday during a tour of the abandoned building.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[08/18/01] After touring the dark, empty hallways of Walnut Towers this week, city officials said they are preparing to take action to rid downtown Vicksburg of a long-time “eyesore.”

Walnut Towers, 1500 Walnut St., was built in the mid-1970s on top of a three-story parking garage that once served downtown shoppers. It was occupied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until 1988 when the offices moved to the old Battlefield Mall on North Frontage Road after Walnut Towers was deemed unsafe.

Since then, the five-story white structure in the heart of downtown has sat vacant except for street-level areas used by the City of Vicksburg for storage.

“They (the owners) told me that they have a deal at the table,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said. “What I told them is if you’ve got a deal at the table, you need to consummate the deal. It’s sort of time to fly or die.”

With flashlights in hand, Leyens, both city aldermen and other city officials toured the empty structure twice this week. After, Leyens said if owners have not made progress with the building by Nov. 15 when the city’s urban renewal development plan is expected to be complete, the city will take action to acquire the structure and have it torn down.

The building is owned by Charles Abraham and David Abraham.

“We want to work with the owner to come up with a good outcome,” Leyens said. But, “we need parking for this block and we need this eyesore dealt with.”

City Building Inspector Charles James said it would cost more than $1 million to bring the building up to code today. Deficiencies he noted included broken windows, leaks in the roof, an empty elevator shaft, substandard wiring and plumbing and not enough exits for the number of people who can occupy the building.

“It was just a bad design,” James said.

The parking garage on which Walnut Towers sits originally was to provide parking for the 1500 block of Washington Street. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said that if the city demolishes the building, it will leave the parking garage.

“Its definitely an eyesore and it could be an asset to the community,” Beauman said.

Under the urban renewal development plan proposed by the mayor and aldermen Thursday, the city would be able to acquire property in the proposed downtown zone without using eminent domain proceedings in Warren County Court.

“We want our community to get back together and we’re not picking on buildings,” Leyens said. “We’re systematically going through and getting buildings that are in code violation.”