Downtown demolition delayed for months at least|[10/18/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Scheduled demolition of part of a crumbling downtown landmark cited as a safety hazard will be pushed back until at least January due to state regulations and legal wranglings, Vicksburg officials said Monday.

The two-story, red-brick building at Washington and Jackson streets, perhaps best remembered as the Monte Carlo Lounge throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, was built as the Christian and Brough Co. Auto Dealers in the late 1920s. For decades, it was a 7-Up bottling plant before becoming Johnson Barber Shop and a series of nightclubs and lounges until 1990. Records show the building has been mostly vacant for the past 15 years.

Today, signs of decay are evident in the roofless structure’s broken windows, gutted, debris-filled interiors and collapsing second levels barely supported by splintered wooden beams. The roof of the garage extends over the sidewalk on Washington Street, where some pieces of the building and roof have fallen onto the concrete. It’s only this section, the garage, which sits between the more stable main building on the corner and the white brick building most recently inhabited by the Bunny Rabbit Pool Hall, that is tabbed for demolition.

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&#8220The building is literally day to day falling apart,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens at Monday’s board meeting. &#8220Pieces are falling off on the sidewalk…it’s a very compelling public safety hazard. It’s out of compliance with the building code on multiple points.”

The city elected to tear the building down after it said the owner, Vicksburg native and current California resident Joe Farris, ignored its efforts to spur him to rehabilitate the property.

Farris was unable to be reached by telephone Monday.

&#8220If he would come in and fix it up, that would be ideal for the city, but we’ve given him years and he hasn’t responded,” said Wayne Scott, building inspector. &#8220It’s been an ongoing process for years and the city is finally going to go forward with what it needs to do.”

Before it can go forward, however, the city will have to wait until after Jan. 1 due to a state law that forbids spending more than $10,000 on the removal of any single property in one year, Scott said. Because the state’s Department of Environmental Equality also requires an asbestos inspection for all commercial buildings slated for destruction – an inspection Scott said the city conducted on the abandoned building in September for about $7,000 – the price tag on the demolition before the new year would exceed the limit for 2005.

Scott said he couldn’t put a &#8220purely hypothetical” estimate on the cost of demolishing the building, but Leyens ventured the city could do it for less than $12,000.

As the buildings stand, the garage area the city wants to bring down is sandwiched between the larger brick building to the south and the Bunny Rabbit Pool Hall to the north. Knocking down the garage in between those buildings is &#8220not an easy project,” Scott said, because of the adjacent walls, but one that could be made easier depending on the outcome of a lawsuit over ownership of the former pool hall’s building.

When owner Salous Bradley put the club on the market, Jamal &#8220Fast Jimmy” Khouri, owner of the building housing Rusty’s Riverfront Restaurant next to the club, decided to buy the property and tear the building down to make room for a parking lot adjacent to Rusty’s, the mayor said. Leyens said Khouri is suing Bradley on the claim that Bradley agreed to sell the property, went through the proper channels with the city and accepted a deposit from Khouri, then refused to hand over the title to the club.

Bradley would not comment on details of the suit, but denied he had ever put the pool hall on the market.

&#8220If they want to tear that building down next to me, they can go ahead and tear it down,” Bradley said.

Khouri could not be reached.

Leyens said he would prefer to wait until the suit is over to knock down the abandoned garage, especially if Khouri has the opportunity to knock down the Bunny Rabbit Pool Hall building first, making access to the garage much easier for the city.

&#8220Mr. Khouri was planning on tearing the building down,” Leyens said. &#8220We’d rather him tear his building down first, for liability purposes.”

Because Farris still owns the property and is, in Leyens’ words, &#8220not talking with anybody,” the city can’t make any plans about selling or developing his lots. That problem is for later, said Scott, because removing the middle building without harming the adjacent walls is a tough-enough task to plan for now.

&#8220Our goal right now is to make this area safe for people to walk all the sidewalks,” he said.