Leppert cracks down on vacant, decrepit buildings in downtown Dallas

Print
Email
|

by By RUDOLPH BUSH / The Dallas Morning News rbush@dallasnews.com

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:44 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 1:35 PM

Fed up with decrepit, vacant downtown buildings that have become little more than pigeon stalls, Mayor Tom Leppert announced a crackdown Tuesday on seven properties that city officials say have become health and safety hazards.

Owners of the buildings, including the Grand Hotel at 1902 Commerce St. and a historically significant structure at 508 Park Ave., have less than 30 days to bring their buildings up to code or face penalties that officials say could reach tens of thousands of dollars a day.

The owners "are simply sitting on their properties and putting no money into them. Many of them live somewhere else and they just don't care," Mr. Leppert said.

Agents representing owners of several of the buildings decried the mayor's statements as needless threats.

But city officials cited a slew of violations at the buildings, including crumbling supports, exposed wiring and standing water.

Code inspector Ricardo Sinyard described bird carcasses and droppings inside some buildings. Many of them lack windows on some floors and have hosted "several generations being hatched," he said.

In most cases, anything of value, including copper, has been stripped out, he said.

City attorney Tom Perkins said the city sent owners and agents of the buildings a letter Monday citing various violations. The 30-day clock for making repairs is ticking, he said.

After that, "we are prepared to pursue them with all legal remedies available to us," he said.

In some cases, officials may seek to levy a fine of $1,000 per violation per day, Mr. Perkins said.

Agents for several of the buildings, including the Grand Hotel and 1604 Main St., called the city's actions disingenuous and inappropriate, saying the building owners don't need threats to work with the city.

"There is a plan to renovate the building, and at such time as it is renovated we will comply with the codes," said Thomas Keen, attorney for Hamsher International, owner of the Grand Hotel.

Mr. Keen said Mr. Leppert was seeking a political splash rather than actual progress by holding a news conference instead of calling him to discuss problems at the Grand.

He said he had only been contacted once, just briefly, by city officials.

"If the city is going to institute legal action, obviously it will take money away from what might be used to renovate the building," he said.

Charles Steen, a registered agent for 1604 Main St., said the city needs to wait for the "ebb and flow" of the market to bring the building back to life, rather than force the matter through prosecution.

His clients, whom he declined to name but described as well-known local real estate developers, have been involved in bringing downtown back for years, he said.

"All of a sudden I guess they're supposed to be the bad guys because they aren't up to code?" he said.

Owners and agents for several other buildings couldn't be reached for comment.

Mr. Leppert said that in addition to pressuring owners to bring their buildings up to code, he has asked the Dallas Central Appraisal District to reassess properties the city believes are grossly undervalued.

The Grand Hotel, on a prime downtown site, is valued at about $3.5 million. The high-rise at1712 Commerce St., just two blocks away, is on the tax rolls at less than $1.2 million.

TARGETED BUILDINGS

The downtown buildings that Dallas is targeting for code violations:

1902 Commerce St., Dallas Grand Hotel/Statler Hilton

1954 Commerce St., Old Dallas Central Library

1712 Commerce St.

1604 Main St.

1607 Main St.

211 N. Ervay St.

508 Park Ave.

Print
Email
|