Now that most of the legal and insurance issues are resolved, a lawyer representing one of the property owners involved with the crumbling building in downtown Jefferson City said he hopes progress will move quickly.
Last week, David Bandre, representing the owners of 202 E. High St., gave the Jefferson City Council an update on progress at the intersection of East High and Madison streets.
In June 2018, the west wall of the building at 200 E. High St. partially collapsed due to water infiltration and hidden decay of the mortar in the wall. The building, owned by Neidert Properties LLC, is set for demolition, but it shares a common wall with 202 E. High St., owned by Ruben and Carol Wieberg, creating a precarious situation.
Ward 4 Councilman Carlos Graham said he is concerned about how long it has taken to demolish 200 E. High St., adding it is "an eyesore" in Jefferson City.
While he understands the council's and residents' frustrations, Bandre said, his clients are "largely holding up this project" because they are "doing everything within their power to save their building."
"We all acknowledge that 200 has to go," Bandre said, adding "200 could be torn down tomorrow. The issue is the common wall. My clients are in a position that if they can come up with the insurance money to build it, they're going to rebuild that common wall and save what is a historic building in downtown Jefferson City."
Michael Berry, representing Neidert Properties, did not return the News Tribune's request for comment.
After receiving recommendations and cost estimates from four engineers within the last couple of weeks, Bandre forwarded those to the insurance company and is waiting for a response.
Bandre said he and the Wiebergs received several bids on the cost of demolition, including those to tear down both 200 and 202 E. High St.; tear down 200 E. High St. but preserve the shared wall; and tear down 200 E. High St. and the shared common wall but allow the Wiebergs to construct a new wall.
Bandre said he did not know when he would receive an answer from the insurance company.
"I recognize that is not the most fabulous position to be in, but we are there," he told the City Council on Monday. "We have several engineers who have agreed that my client's building is infinitely worth saving. For what it's worth — and it's probably not worth much to you guys at this point — I do think things will move quite a bit quicker now that we have the insurance issue resolved."
The Wiebergs initially had some issues regarding whether the insurance company will cover a partial collapse of a shared wall, Bandre said. He believes the insurance company has determined it is a covered event.
Of the four engineers who looked at 202 E. High St., Bandre said, one said the building was not structurally sound and three others said it was. The engineer who thought the building is not structurally sound is with the city, he added.
The building at 202 E. High St. also shares a wall with 204 E. High St., owned by Jay Seaver. The property owners are now having to evaluate the impact on 204 E. High St. as well.
"Needless to say, if we can save 202, that by definition will save 204 as well," Bandre said, adding they are still unsure about the progress at 204 E. High St.
Mayor Carrie Tergin said she understands the situation was complex and appreciates the property owners' and lawyers' actions to resolve the issue.
"If taking the amount of time to work through those options could possibly preserve one of the buildings, we appreciate the extra thought and work that's going into hopefully being able to preserve — because nobody wants to see any of the buildings come down, much less more than what has to come down," she said.
Last fall, the city ruled both 200 and 202 E. High St. were dangerous buildings and gave Neidert Properties and the Wiebergs deadlines to repair or demolish their buildings, which both property owners missed. When they missed the deadlines, the city ruled if the property owners did not repair or demolish the buildings, the city could begin the abatement process.
The Wiebergs filed a lawsuit against the city in March, asking for a new hearing. In June, Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce affirmed the city's ruling that 202 E. High St. was a dangerous building and the Wiebergs must repair or demolish the property.
When Joyce made her ruling, City Counselor Ryan Moehlman said last week, the city could have acted quickly to demolish 202 E. High St.
However, the city contacted the Wiebergs, Neidert Properties and their lawyers and "have found it fit to allow them the space to work with the insurance company and their engineers to resolve the situation such that 202 could be saved," Moehlman said.
"If we were to act fast back in July, (it) would be to take both buildings down," he said. "So I think there is an appreciation that if 202 can be saved, that the extra time it would take to do so would be worth it."
Moehlman said he still believes city staff made the right decision to allow the property owners to resolve the issue among themselves.
City Administrator Steve Crowell said he appreciates the property owners' and lawyers' efforts but warned the city could take action if city staff does not feel there has been enough progress.
"It does kind of preclude our staff from being able to make a decision to go ahead and do the demolition if it gets to that point," he said, adding he hopes it doesn't come to that point.
Sonny Sanders, Jefferson City Planning and Protective Services Department director, told the News Tribune on Thursday that the city does not have a timeline for when it would move forward with demolishing the buildings.
If the city does abate the nuisances, a tax lien would be placed on the properties.
Sanders said city staff is "optimistic" progress involving the two buildings will pick up.
If the city decides to move forward with demolition, Bandre said, he asked city officials to demolish only 200 E. High St. and leave his clients' property and the common wall standing. However, he added, doing so would be more expensive.
After Neidert Properties demolishes 200 E. High St., Bandre said, he is not sure what will happen with the vacant lot. Carol Wieberg told the News Tribune last month she and Ruben are considering purchasing the lot and constructing something there, but discussions were still preliminary.
In June, Joyce ruled Neidert Properties could proceed with demolishing 200 E. High St. This decision came after several months of legal battles between Neidert Properties and the Wiebergs, who could not agree who was responsible for repairing and maintaining the shared wall between 200 and 202 E. High St.
Following that ruling, the Residences at 204 LLC filed a petition for injunctive relief against Neidert Properties. Residences at 204 is asking the court to order Neidert Properties to remove a fire escape from a shared private alley, which the petition states violates restrictive use covenants in a 1978 agreement.
A court hearing had not been set as of Thursday.