City to vote Monday on fate of gutted store

LOCK HAVEN — City council will vote Monday on tearing down the burned-out former furniture store less than a block from City Hall.

Demolition seems like the best option for the structure. It also seems that the taxpayers would be forced to pay for it, with the city taking steps to recover the cost at an unknown time in the future.

A dramatic fire on Dec. 16, 2016 gutted the former Heilig-Meyers furniture store, leaving no roof at all on its top story.

Neighboring buildings were affected but dedicated firefighters saved those buildings. The structures that were open and operating at the time of the blaze are still open now. They include a church, the women’s center, and a building with storefronts and second-story apartments.

The old furniture store, however, was condemned 11 days after fire ravaged it.

Not much, if anything, has been done with it since the last firefighter left the scene. For more than a year now, it has waited to meet its fate.

David Mayes is the owner of record, according to the city. He and a partner reportedly planned to open an under-21 club before the fire took place.

After the fire, Mayes told the city he was pursuing options for the building. That was about a year ago, in February 2017.

So the city has waited.

The church, Covenant United Methodist, also has been waiting. The gutted store is dangerous and sits too close to the church for exterior repairs to be done, including power repairs, according to church members.

One month ago, the city stopped waiting. One year after the blaze, on Dec. 19, 2017, it issued an order to Mayes and other parties of interest to repair or tear down the structure — by Jan. 12 of this year.

Last night, the building appeared to be in exactly the same condition as the day the order was issued.

City Hall was not idle during the year-long waiting period. It had a structural engineer review the building after the blaze, and the city’s special counsel for municipal law, Samuel Wiser Jr. of Chambersburg, has been tapped to ensure that everything in this case is done by the book.

The process has come so far now that city council will vote during its 7 p.m. meeting Jan. 22 on whether or not to solicit bids for demolishing what was once a solid commercial space in the downtown.

If the vote is yes, things will start moving quickly. Bids should be back in time for council to consider them and possibly award a contract at its next meeting, on Feb. 5, reports Greg Wilson, the new city manager.

The city has not yet charged Mayes for violating the order to repair or demolish his building, Wilson said. Mayes could be fined, and that fine could be levied daily as long as he does nothing and the building remains unsafe, he said.

If council votes to demolish, the city will find the dollars to make it happen, Wilson said. Once a contract is awarded, the cost will be known and specific city funds can be tapped to pay for it, he said.

“The money will not be coming from borrowed proceeds,” the city manger stated.

Although the city would have to bear the cost of the demolition up front, that cost would be liened against the property. The city would get the money back if and when the lot is sold.

The bottom line is that the building is officially unsafe. “The city’s main obligation here is to protect the safety of residents,” Wilson said.