What happens with what remains after buildings at the northwest corner of Fifth and Gallatin streets in downtown Vandalia were demolished? That issue spurred several different discussions at Monday’s city council meeting.
And one of those discussions led to discourse on another downtown issue.
As Mayor Rick Gottman reported at the council meeting that the demolition of the buildings at the main downtown intersection had been completed, he announced that he has asked Public Works Director Marlin Filer to determine how much the city expended toward the project.
That total, Gottman said, will be applied to the city’s lien against the property.
Later in the meeting, the mayor reported that while Midland States Bank paid taxes on that property in each of the past three years, this year’s taxes have not been paid.
Gottman asked Ryan Connor of the city’s legal counsel, Burnside, Johnston, Connor and Jensen, his opinion on that matter, and Connor said, “I don’t believe that those delinquent taxes pose a particular problem” to the city’s tax lien.
Connor said it is his understanding that “our (the city’s) lien would be superior to even a tax lien.
“We would be doing everything we could to get to the top of that heap (of tax liens),” he said.
A lengthy list of lien holders includes financial institutions holding loans on the property as well as the state and federal governments.
While the city waits for a determination on who will be named as the owner of the property on which the two buildings stood, there are other issues to be resolved.
One of those, as brought up by Alderman Ken Hubler, is whether the city will be doing anything to improve the appearance of the walls of adjacent buildings that were exposed as a result of the demolition.
Gottman said he will be talking to the owners of those two adjacent buildings, and that he has recommended to the owner of one of those buildings that a structural engineer be contracted to assess the condition of that building.
He also said that he wants to see a project to improve the appearance of those exposed walls to also include walls of other buildings downtown.
Gottman said that there are six buildings with exposed walls that could use work, and that he wants to bring the owners of those buildings together for a discussion.
“I think we need to look at all of those (buildings), find out what the owners would like to see done and then seek bids (for improvement work),” the mayor said.
Gottman said that the city could apply some of its Tax Increment Financing monies toward such an improvement project.
The mayor also told aldermen that he will be talking to the general contractor for the demolition project, Razmus Demolition Services of Chrisman, about issues related to that project.
Those issues include the roof of an adjacent building not being protected from falling bricks, as was promised.
Gottman will also bring up Alderman Andy Lester’s contention that the contractor should have to bring in more fill dirt for the property.
A final payment of $93,804.45 was on the council’s special bills list on Monday, but Gottman said that the check will be held until all issues related to the project are resolved.
Hubler asked how the city goes about acquiring the property on which the demolished buildings stood, and Connor said, “It is a long process to acquire the title.”
One factor that favors the city’s attempt to obtain the land, he said, is that “there weren’t a lot of people clamoring to take ownership” once it was determined that the buildings needed to be taken down.
Should the city take over the property, some merchants have an idea for its use.
Jason Arndt of The Money Pit read to the council a letter in which he recommends using that corner area for parking.
Ardnt said that he had spoken with a number of business owners in the downtown area who also would like to see used for parking.
He said that parking is limited on Gallatin Street and that additional parking close to downtown businesses would help to promote the use of those businesses.
While there is additional parking available downtown, it is some distance away from the Gallatin Street businesses.
Ardnt said that of the 41 storefronts on Gallatin Street, 13 are currently unused. “Without adequate parking, these buildings will like remain empty,” he said.
“Running a business is difficult enough without being concerned about where our customers will park,” Arndt said.
Alderman Jerry Swarm responded to Arndt’s presentation by saying that it brought up a pet peeve of his.
“Did you ask (downtown business owners) how many of them park on the street?” Swarm said.
“That has been a pet peeve of mine since the 1980s,” Swarm said, referring to downtown business owners and their employees parking on Gallatin.
“They (merchants) are the first ones to complain that there’s no parking,” Swarm said.
Arndt said that he did ask that question. “I understand your concern – that is a problem,” he said.
Ardnt conceded that there are times that he parks on Gallatin, but only for short periods, when he needs to carry items to and from his business.
Swarm said that the city has an ordinance that limits parking along Gallatin Street to two hours. “I’ve been trying to get that enforced.”
Police Chief Jeff Ray said that his officers did enforce the ordinance when asked to do so by the council, “and we got a lot of complaints.”
The week of New Year’s Eve, Ray said, his officers wrote 17 tickets. “My phone rang off the hook.”
“We’ve been doing complaint-driven (enforcement) unless you want to go a different route,” Ray said.
“If there’s a problem, we address it,” he said.
One of the issues, according to Dennis Grubaugh, who owns a number of buildings downtown, is that individuals who live in second-story apartments park on Gallatin Street, and rent paid by those individuals “make the buildings viable.”
Alderman Mike Hobler said, “Really, there’s no great answer.”
Also at Monday’s meeting:
• The council approved the purchase of a pallet truck for the water plant from Black Equipment Co. Black’s bid of $4,000 was the lowest of two bids received by the city.
• The council approved an agreement with Hach for maintenance of equipment at the wastewater treatment plant.
• The council approved the minutes of the Zoning Board of Adjustments meeting on Sept. 30. At that meeting, the board approved a request from Dan and Carla Engelbrektson for a 17-foot setback, where 25 feet is required, for a porch on their home at 401 S. Stone Ave.
• Alderman B. John Clark said that he wanted it known publicly that “I very much oppose a new library.”
Swarm added, “I agree.”