Ordinance to increase city’s fix-or-flatten budget to pay for demolition at 649 State meets opposition from aldermen

649 State

This three-story brick building at the corner of Seventh and State was gutted in a fire on May 18.  | David Adam

QUINCY — The debate about the demolition of the building at 649 State continued during Monday’s meeting of the Quincy City Council.

Aldermen voted 10-1 at the July 5 meeting to accept a bid of $79,500 from Blick Construction Company to demolish the three-story brick building that was gutted in a fire on May 18. 

However, three aldermen who missed last week’s meeting — Tony Sassen (R-4), Mike Farha (R-4) and Mike Rein (R-5) — expressed their concern about the second reading of an ordinance that would amend the budget to add more money to the city’s fix-or-flatten program.

Andy Caley, who owns Caley Custom Construction of Quincy with his wife, Dana, bought the property at 649 State for $20,000 through their limited liability company, Microplex Properties, on May 26, 2021 from Abbott Development.

Quincy Mayor Mike Troup told aldermen last week that the property at 649 State is not insured, and the Caleys do not have money for the demolition. Chuck Bevelheimer, director of planing and development, said city attorneys continues to talk about how to address this scenario and others similar to it with attorneys who represent Microplex Properties.

“This puts the city in a very awkward position, because we have a three-story building that’s been gutted, that can easily fall onto the city right-of-way and potentially damage public property as well as private citizens,” Bevelheimer said.

Jeff Bergman (R-2) said last week the city needed to look at the possibility of putting liens on personal property to recoup some of the cost of demolition. He said Monday he understands the public safety issue at stake.

“It does need to come down, but unfortunately, the city is going to be stuck with bringing it down,” he said. “The taxpayer should not be burdened with this, whether it’s a 100 percent recoup of the costs or even partial — and not only on this (property) but going forward with all fix-or-flattens. … I do hope this does bear some fruit going forward with our discussions with the legal department.”

Bevelheimer said the city probably should have ordered the building to be demolished the day after the fire. However, negotiations to have the Caleys take care of the property failed.

Bevelheimer told aldermen the city’s entire fix-or-flatten budget is $80,000, and the city has other fix-or-flatten properties to address — which is why the council has been asked to approve a supplemental budget increase.

“The bottom line is there is a public health and safety threat here, and it needs to be addressed,” Bevelheimer said. “Who else is going to address this?”

Rein, Sassen and Farha said they didn’t mind spending all of the fix-or-flatten budget on one project while pushing the other projects to next year.

“You’ve got $80,000,” Rein said. “You don’t need to increase the budget.”

“In the budget process, when we presented it to you, we have enough fix-or-flattens that are in the wards that need to come down,” Bevelheimer replied. “That’s what the council’s intent was when we presented the budget to you.”

“I’ve got like a 15-year history of seeing this happening more and more,” Rein said. “Landlords are walking away from properties and sticking us with the tax.”

“There’s something truly troubling about this,” Farha said. “I’m certain some of the landlords, who we’ve given money to, burn their buildings down and basically collected, and the taxpayer gets left with the hook here.

“The public is just madder than hell about this. They don’t understand why an owner didn’t do anything. He just walks away.”

Rein tossed out the idea of tabling the budget increase until the city finds out what can be done legally to get part of the demolition paid for by the Caleys. Jack Holtschlag (D-7) doesn’t want to see demolition halted.

“We’ve got street closures down there, and we have businesses down,” he said. “We need to move on this to get our streets opened back up. We need to get it torn down before something falls on somebody. There’s kids getting into it. We need to move on this, regardless of who pays for it.”

Patty Maples (D-6) asked who would be held liable if the building collapsed and someone was injured.

“You know as well as I do, if that building collapses onto the street and someone gets hurt, they’re coming after us,” Bevelheimer replied.

Sassen also suggested waiting on the other fix-or-flatten projects. Bevelheimer replied, “If you want the fix-or-flattens to be sitting in the wards in the conditions that they are in, that’s your call. You control the budget.”

Corporation counsel Lonnie Dunn said how the city first proceeded in the days after the fire has prevented the city from “alleging it’s an emergency situation” and tearing it down now.

“We’re going to see if there’s any way we can subvert the normal (fix-or-flatten) process to get it down soon,” he said.

Greg Fletcher (R-1) noted the case of Curtis Lovelace, who was wrongly charged with first-degree murder in Adams County and was awarded $3.75 million on June 30 from the city in a lawsuit settlement. 

“If we don’t get this thing down, are going to add to that and do another suit?” he said. “We’ve got to get (the building) down and figure out the financials later, before somebody gets hurt or killed. What are we going to get sued for? A hundred grand? A million? Two million? And we’re all here babbling on about it. I don’t want to see the city get sued again. We just had our rear end handed to us (in the Lovelace settlement).”

After the meeting, Bevelheimer said Dunn is meeting Tuesday with attorneys with the Chicago law firm Ancel Glink to learn how other cities deal with an issue like this.

“That’s the main question the aldermen have, and I don’t have those answers,” he said.

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