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Opera House demolition concerns area business owners





Business owners voiced concerns to Hays city commissioners at a public hearing Thursday night about upcoming demolition of the historic Opera House, a property owned by the Liberty Group.

Demolition of the building at 811 Fort is slated for Aug. 20. Chuck Comeau of the Liberty Group, assured commissioners neighboring business owners would be kept apprised of details of the demolition process of the structure before it begins.

Norman Mermis, owner and operator of Top Notch Cleaners, 201 W. Eighth, shared his apprehension about the demolition with commissioners.

"My concern is if they tear the building down, it's not a matter of when, but how they're going to do it," he said. "I have a very expensive boiler which is back in the alley ... about 12 feet away from the building they are going to tear down. My interest is how they're going to tear it down."

Mark Dickey, manager of the Hub Bicycle Shop, 803 Fort, said he is concerned about accessibility to the shop should Fort Street be closed.

Comeau said Midland Wrecking Co. has been contracted to perform the demolition. However, commissioners also have an agreement in place with a contractor to remove the building in the event no action is taken at the building site by Aug. 20.

"If nothing is started by that week, we can pull the trigger and make it happen," City Manager Toby Dougherty said.

"So, if they're going to get started no later than Aug. 20, then we can hold them to that and we still have the backup that we need to, Dougherty said.

Commissioners started the condemnation process for the Opera House in March, and later set a date for a public hearing. Thursday's public hearing, required by statute as part of the condemnation process, was followed by commissioners passing a resolution to formally condemn the building.

Restoration of downtown buildings by Liberty Group have been taking place for about a decade, and Commissioner Kent Steward said he has heard many comments from residents through the years regarding the projects.

Steward said he was grateful to Liberty Group for its contributions to Hays.

"It's a shame to lose the building (the Opera House) but the impact you've made on our community has been tremendous," Steward said. "I appreciate it."

Comeau said he, too, "hated that we have to tear down the building," but due to the fact his company's resources are committed to restorations at another downtown location, and the costly nature of repairs needed at the Opera House, his company did not have the funds to undertake renovation.

Commissioners Barbara Wasinger and Henry Schwaller IV were absent.

In other business, commissioners:

* Approved 2013 job classification and pay plan, which includes a 3-percent pay raise for non-union employes effective Dec. 23.

* Scheduled a public hearing for the 2013 budget for Aug. 9.

* Were provided with a water supply operating plan.