Purchase photos

Building singing last tune

6/15/2012

By DAWNE LEIKER

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Hays city commissioners at Thursday night's meeting set a July 26 public hearing date for possible condemnation of a downtown Hays landmark.

However, City Manager Toby Dougherty made it quite clear: If one more stone falls from the historic Opera House, the structure itself will be history.

City staff began condemnation procedures for the building at 811 Fort with its owner, Liberty Group, several months ago. But with recent significant deterioration of the structure, the process has been accelerated.

Jesse Rohr, city of Hays planning, inspection and enforcement superintendent, told commissioners Thursday night city staff had discovered a single stone from the building had fallen to the sidewalk June 1, leading staff to barricade the sidewalk to pedestrian traffic.

Approximately 10 days later, several additional stones fell from the building, prompting staff to set up extra barricades and fencing.

The standard condemnation process would entail a public hearing and, after a determination has been made, notifying the building's owner of a certain amount of time to comply.

"Administratively, our ordinances say that if it's determined that an immediate threat exists to the health, safety or welfare, that I could make this building come down," Dougherty said. "So, it's a situation I really don't want to be in.

"I don't want to have to make the decision to have this building torn down, but I'm looking out for everybody who is possibly walking or driving by that area. ... And that's what I'm going to concern myself with first."

Although the Liberty Group is entitled to due process during the condemnation proceedings, Dougherty said the "leash is very short here." City staff, he said, will monitor the site daily to see if any further visible deterioration is evident.

"Literally, if we see another stone fall off, we're going to make it come down," he said.

Numerous attempts since 2008 by the city to determine the Opera House's condition and possible renovation plans for the structure have resulted in no action from Liberty Group.

Owned by Liberty Group since 2001, the brick facade of the building was removed in 2002 and 2003 so the building could be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, thereby becoming eligible for grant funding, Kelli Hansen said in an emailed statement Thursday morning.

After evaluation of the building, it was determined before any restoration could occur, the foundation needed repaired, "which required a substantial amount of money to be invested, and additional funding mechanisms such as grants for this type of work were very sparse," she said.

With current building renovations in progress in the downtown area and a downturn in the economy, Hansen said, efforts of Liberty Group continued in the form of physical transformation of many other Main Street buildings.

Increased rail activity was cited by Liberty Group's consultant as a possible reason for increased instability of the structure, she said.

"Preliminary estimates of $2 million to $3 million to fully restore the building and put it back in use makes this financially unfeasible and a great risk to invest those dollars in this single property, whereas those same dollars could make a larger impact when spread across multiple buildings," she said. "So after careful consideration and great reluctance, the decision was made to begin the demolition process."

In other business, commissioners:

* Voted to deny the final plat of King's Gate Second Addition at its developer's request.

* Authorized, in a 5-0 vote, an agreement with Wilson & Co. for inspection of the city's levee system.

* Approved a resolution to abate vehicles located at 1102 E. 17th.

* * *

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve memorandums of agreement with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 48, Service Employees International Union Local 513 and Hays Firefighters Local 2119 for three-year terms.

Items agreed upon include wages as the only automatic annual opener, with benefits becoming an annual opener only if the average employee amount exceeds $9,500. The agreement includes a 3-percent pay adjustment for 2013.

"To have agreements within three months really speaks to the hard work of the meet-and-confer team, and wage and benefit bargaining units as well," said Assistant City Manager Paul Briseno.

The city's 2013 budget, which will be presented to commissioners later this month, will reflect not only the union pay adjustments but the same 3-percent cost of living adjustment for all non-union city personnel,