City to owner of Carr Central: Clean up now

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2002

[01/29/02]Vicksburg officials say they are preparing to take action against the owner of Carr Central if work to clean up the derelict building does not begin immediately.

Mayor Laurence Leyens and city building inspector Charles James viewed the building, vacant for 20 years, Monday and said there is a lot of work needed just to make the structure safe and no longer a health hazard to the community. Leyens said the city will begin taking steps to ensure that broken windows in the building are replaced and that doors are sealed.

Vicksburg resident Robert Rosenthal purchased the school building from the city in 1999 for $105,000 with plans to convert it into an assisted-living facility for the elderly. He was to have the facility open last year, but the past administration chose not to exercise its option to take the structure back if he failed.

“We are very much in support, but Mr. Rosenthal bought this property and he is responsible for its upkeep just like every other property owner,” Leyens said.

During the brief inspection of the property, James noted rotting floors, fallen ceiling tiles and old, overturned desks and other furniture everywhere.

In addition to the problems in the main structure, James pointed to the remains of the school’s old gym wing, destroyed by arson nearly 12 years ago. He said that because of the age of the structure and the probability of asbestos being present in the burned out remains, removal of the gym would cost about $60,000.

“And if he doesn’t do something, we will have to do it,” James said.

Under a contract with the city, Rosenthal was required to have financing and tax credits in place and asbestos removal started. Otherwise, the city had the option to repurchase the school building for $45,000.

Rosenthal has been turned down for tax credits by Mississippi Home Corp., the state agency that coordinates public financing for housing projects. The next round of tax credits will be approved in April.

Rosenthal could not be reached.

“We may have to go ahead and put in new windows and put a lien on the property,” Leyens said.

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young, who has supported Rosenthal’s efforts to renovate the structure, said although she still hoped tax credits can be secured for the project, it is time for the city to pressure the developer.

“We can’t help but to make him do something,” Young said.

The Carr building, named for early Vicksburg professor J.P. Carr, opened in 1924. It served all grades at various times, but most often is remembered as the town’s main high school for white students. It was a junior high when abandoned by the city’s public school district more than 20 years ago. It was then discovered that the city, not the school district, held the deed to the building and land.

In 1994, the building was slated for demolition, but got a reprieve when declared a protected state historical property. Leyens said the historical designation of the property may also be leveraged to put additional pressure on Rosenthal to make improvements.

“If it is a Mississippi Landmark, then it has a different set of criteria,” said Leyens, who has been responsible for several development projects in Vicksburg including the B’nai B’rith Literary Club, a Jewish club used for about 40 years as Vicksburg’s police department.

“If I’m right, then we’re going to make him replace all the glass and clean up the grounds,” he said.