The Mobile City Council voted to declare a downtown garage a public nuisance, but not before the item sparked a heated debate among members.
In its action during a regular meeting Tuesday morning, councilors ordered the structure at 600 St. Anthony Street, currently operating as a garage, demolished with owner Eric Davidson being responsible for reimbursing the city for the costs associated with it.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie showed support for the move during a pre-conference meeting because the property has been an eyesore for more than 11 years. It’s also near Dunbar Magnet Middle School.
“The only way this gentlemen makes any moves is under the threat of demolition,” Manzie said of Davidson.
Manzie got some pushback from Councilman John Williams, who was interested in saving the building, instead of allowing it to be torn down. He told councilors he knew of at least two “experts” who were interested in buying the building as is and fixing it up.
“If you tear it down, you’re going to deeply regret tearing it down,” he said. “So many buildings we’ve torn down has become a hole and has not become a new building.”
Manzie, who represents the downtown area on council, argued that there have been a number of apartments and condominiums coming online to fill those holes.
“That’s absolutely not the case,” Manzie told Williams.
For his part, Davidson vowed to fight the declaration and complained after the move that he wasn’t allowed to speak to the council about it. However, Davidson did not sign in to speak and by council rules was not allowed to when the issue came up.
Deputy Director of Municipal Enforcement David Daughenbaugh said his department has tried for years to get the building’s owner to fix the issues with it. For instance, the building lost its roof 11 years ago and conditions have only deteriorated since then, he said.
Just because the roof is missing, doesn’t mean the building is not structurally sound, Williams said. The foundation is concrete and the building is not in danger of falling, he said.
Davidson agreed, saying the building is not unsafe and should not be torn down.
Councilman Fred Richardson argued that the building is open to vagrants due to the open roof and should be fixed.
“Anybody who wants to get this building can get in,” he said.
Williams scoffed at the notion because the walls are 18 feet to 20 feet tall.
“It’s not open to the public,” Williams said. “If a vagrant wants to scale the way; boy, I don’t know why they’re a vagrant. They should be competing ….”
Daughenbaugh called the structure “unsafe,” and told councilors the city has attempted before, in 2017, to declare the building a nuisance, but the owner has previously appealed it. Daughenbaugh said an electrical supervisor condemned the building and had Alabama Power pull the meter from it. Despite the loss of electricity, Daughenbaugh said the owner is still operating the business.
The council needs to handle these declarations fairly, Richardson said. For years, he said structures in districts 1, 2 and 3 — the oldest neighborhods in the city — have all been torn down, despite pleas from owners to give them more time.
“Most of these houses were torn down with people still crying,” he said.”I haven’t seen one tear shed over this.”
Davidson has had six months to fix the roof and has done nothing yet, Manzie said. The councilman fears that being more leinient will result in no action from the owner. The result of the declaration, Manzie said, would be for Davidson sell the property or for the building to be torn down.
Davidson said he can’t afford to fix the roof right now and is not interested in selling the building.
In other news, Councilors and Mayor Sandy Stimpson met with Cordish Companies CEO David Cordish during the last week of September. The visit came shortly after Stimpson’s office announced an about face on the redevelopment of the Civic Center property. Stimpson has now said he supports leaving the Civic Center arena in place and allowing Cordish to develop a “LIve!” concept behind it.
City spokesman George Talbot said Cordish and other executives from the company met with a number of groups. He said the company is interested in Stimpson’s revised concept, but would need to go “back to the drawing board.” Talbot said the city is waiting on a response from Cordish on the plan.
“Cordish has done a lot of these redevelopments all over the country,” Talbot said. “There’s really nothing you can throw at them that would be a surprise. As far as redevelopment of an arena, they seem up to the challenge. They want to put pencil to paper and get back to the city.”
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