Deadline passes in downtown building cleanup|[3/13/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 13, 2006

An owner of the downtown building that collapsed in January said the City of Vicksburg has made it difficult, if not impossible, for stabilization and site clearing work to begin.

&#8220We’re hunting nationally for someone with insurance,” said Preston Reuther, who, with his wife, Mary, owns the former Thomas Furniture building at 711-713 Clay.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen required insurance and a plan for stabilizing still-standing structures at 707 and 709 Clay to be submitted and indicated the city would take over the project if paperwork wasn’t in by Saturday.

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No plans were submitted, but no city official was available this morning to say if there would be an immediate response.

&#8220The city is requiring a million dollars insurance on this thing,” Reuther said. &#8220If we can’t get insurance, there’s nothing we can do.”

Immediately after the Jan. 25 collapse, which damaged adjacent buildings, Reuther said he planned to rebuild. The 140-year-old multistory masonry structure was being cleaned in preparation for conversion to an antiques mall, he said.

There have been complications since, including replacing contractors, and Reuther said this weekend there may be litigation coming later this week.

The city’s order said the Reuthers’ contractors, Pete Buford and C.G. Ford, were required to submit a plan of work and a bill of insurance for the property by Saturday, but Reuther said the plans were delayed because neither Buford nor Ford, both from Vicksburg, were able to find an insurance company willing to underwrite the risk.

The city may take up the issue of commandeering work on the property at its next meeting on March 20.

&#8220The first thing I’ll do is hire an engineer to go through the building and assess what needs to be done and how we’ll do the cleanup, then we’ll hire a contractor,” Leyens said Friday. &#8220But we’re probably going to declare a state of emergency so we don’t have to go through the 30-day bid process. We’ve got to get that street open.”

An option may be a lien on the property under the city’s slum clearance ordinance. Property must be uninhabitable and a building official must make findings that it presents a threat to public welfare before the city can take over, City Attorney Nancy Thomas said before the deadline expired.

Reuther said he hired Buford and Ford after firing Freddie Parson of Parson Construction Co. on Feb. 27 for taking too long to begin work after the city approved Parson’s plan for stabilization of 707 and 709 Clay and demolition of the remnants of 711 and 713 on Feb. 21. Parson said he was delayed by the city’s requirement for insurance, which he applied for on Feb. 17 and received Feb. 24, three days before he was removed from the job.

Twenty-three workers hired by Parson for the original cleaning inside escaped the building without injuries before the midday collapse.

The offices of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, Vicksburg Main Street and Vicksburg-Warren Alliance, which occupied the building directly west of the collapsed property, were evacuated on Feb. 15 and will remain vacant until the property is stabilized.

The Reuthers, along with Parson, are facing a lawsuit from Larry and Linda Walker, owners of Adolph Rose Antiques, located in the ground floor of the building just east of the collapsed structures. The Adolph Rose building, owned by Malcolm Allred, who also lived in a third floor apartment there, sustained a hole in its west wall during the collapse. The Walkers are asking for more than $129,000 in damaged property, lost profit and punitive damages, plus court costs.

Crews under Riverside Construction Co. were continuing work to patch the hole in the Adolph Rose this week, but the building won’t be occupied again until the rest of the block is stabilized.