City steps in to clear collapsed building site ‘I’m surprised they let it go this long,’ neighbor says

Published 11:44 am Friday, September 9, 2011

Four days after a steel support beam was blown down in high winds, Vicksburg street department employees this morning removed what remained of the front wall at the old Thomas Furniture Store site at 713 Clay St.

A city track hoe shoved the remnant of the wall, which twisted and fell back on the property with a crash and a cloud of dust. The track hoe shoved the remaining debris, including the beam that fell Monday, back onto the property and off the city sidewalk and right of way.

City attorney Lee David Thames said the demolition was part of an order approved in August by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to clean the site where the 140-year-old building collapsed in January 2006. Acting public works director Garnet Van Norman said the fence will be replaced and city workers will repair the damage to the sidewalk caused by the beam.

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Watching the demolition was Lisa Ashcraft, who with her husband, Randy, owns the former First Federal Savings and Loan building at 1221 Washington St., which shares a wall with the last remaining section of the fallen building.

The Ashcrafts are suing the city and Preston and Mary Reuther, the owners of the property where the furniture store stood.

“I’m surprised they let it go this long,” she said as she shot video of the demolition. “Someone could have been killed. Had it been a regular Monday, a car would have been parked there (pointing to the spot where the beam fell). I’ve parked there.”

High winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee blew the beam down on the afternoon of Labor Day.

The beam ran west from the remainder of the wall to the section of the furniture building that adjoins the Ashcrafts’ building.

Its fall leveled a chain-link fence blocking the front of the property, and blocked a portion of the sidewalk and a parking space in front of the building.

The beam’s fall left the wall supported by a single iron beam that was secured to the sidewalk and propped the wall at an angle.

The collapsed building was the subject of a 2 1/2-year lawsuit between the city and the Reuthers that was resolved in 2008.

When the city and the Reuthers settled their case in June 2008, Preston Reuther hired Antique Wood and Brick Company of Mississippi to complete the demolition.

The Ashcrafts’ March 25, 2010, suit against the Reuthers, the city and Antique Wood and Brick Co. owner Bill Greenwood stopped the demolition because of what the Ashcrafts called a potential threat to the wall their building shares with the remnants of the furniture store.

The city on July 11 filed a motion for summary judgment in circuit court seeking to be dismissed from the lawsuit. A hearing on the motion has not been set.

“I just want people to know that I am not holding this mess up,” Ashcraft said.

“There is an opportunity to make this go away,” she said. “There is an option on the table and everyone knows what it is. Everyone’s ready to settle and get this over. It’s the city that’s being stubborn.”

Reuther said in July that a company called Downtown Vicksburg Investments Inc., a limited liability company, now owns the land.

The company’s officers are not listed in its records filed with the Mississippi Secretary of State, but its St. Joseph, Mo., address on the Warren County tax rolls is the same as the Reuthers’.