City to clear collapsed buildings|[02/20/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Clay Street site where two buildings collapsed will be cleared and adjacent structures stabilized under a Tuesday decision of the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

A legal stalemate remains, however, between the city and Preston and Mary Reuther, owners of the structures at 711 and 713 Clay that imploded Jan. 25, 2006, while workers were clearing the interior for rehabilitation into an antique mall.

After an executive session, city officials voted to advertise for bids to clear the site and to stabilize two remaining buildings at 707 and 709 Clay.

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The pile of debris at the site, near the Washington Street Mall where millions in bond and private money has been spent in an urban renewal project, has remained largely untouched since the day the buildings fell.

The legal conflict arose after the Reuthers started work at the collapse site, but were stopped by a city order saying proper permits and an approved plan had not been obtained. The case that has been bounced from court to court is now set for another motions hearing on March 21 in Warren County Circuit Court.

Associate City Attorney Bobby Robinson represents the city, and attorneys for the Jackson firm MacNeill & Buffington confirmed today they still represent the Reuthers, who are believed to have moved from the area.

The couple moved to Vicksburg with intentions to play a part in what has been a largely successful downtown makeover, suffering a setback in the collapse and then becoming disenchanted after they received what they called interference from the city.

The price of stabilization versus demolition has been a sticking point for the Reuthers, who say stabilizing the buildings will cost upwards of $100,000. In 2006, according to court documents, the city received a bid to stabilize the buildings for $69,875. The contract was not awarded, however, apparently due to the pending litigation.

State laws allow a city to perform or commission work or demolition to a blighted property, then bill its owner and file a tax lien if payment is not received. Property can then not be sold until the lien is paid.

Robinson indicated that recent developments in the case have given officials confidence to restart the bid process for stabilization of the buildings and removal of the rubble. But he allowed that with the Reuthers’ plea for injunction still in the courts, nothing is certain.

“The case isn’t moving forward, so they (city officials) are going ahead,” he said.