After nearly three years of sitting half-collapsed and causing a section of Main Street between Sixth and Eighth Avenues to be closed, demolition on Garland Trice’s condemned building at 620 S. Main St. began on Wednesday.

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington ordered the action after Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell declared the building “hazardous to life and property … [it] presents an imminent danger to public health and welfare of the citizens of Pine Bluff.”

In a news release, the city said that “Due to anticipated weather patterns and the instability, deterioration and continuous collapse of the structure, Chief Howell has declared an emergency and ordered its immediate abatement, pursuant to the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code 2012 Edition Section 110 Unsafe Buildings and the Pine Bluff Code of Ordinance §16-1 and §16-2.” As a result of this declaration, the demolition will be carried out by Wagner Construction, and Snyder Environmental will manage asbestos control.”

Trice turned his back and walked away from a reporter who sought to interview him at his building Wednesday afternoon. He was filming the demolition, including people who were conducting it and watching it.

Trice was found guilty in October 2016 of violating a city law for failure to remove or abate a nuisance, and Judge Jodi Raines Dennis sentenced him to 30 days in jail, which was to be suspended if he demolished the building 30 days from the time her order was entered. She also fined him $1,000.

Trice had 90 days to file an appeal, and he has reportedly picked up a copy of Dennis’ court transcript, which is required for the appeals process; however, the Commercial was unavailable to confirm if an appeal had been filed as of Wednesday.

Prior to Wednesday, Trice had argued that he wanted to repair his building, but city officials did not approve his plan. Shortly after the roof collapsed in July 2014, Trice presented a plan to salvage the building during a period of 26 months to 38 months. City of Pine Bluff Inspection and Zoning Director Mitzi Ruth rejected that time frame because professional contractors and building inspectors determined his building was structurally unstable and contained unsupported walls.

The City Council spent months discussing Trice and his failures to clean up his building before adding it to the condemnation list.

Trice’s attorney, Willard Proctor, did not return a phone call by press time.

On Wednesday, workers used heavy machinery to remove bricks, concrete and metal beams while spraying water on the site to combat asbestos. Pine Bluff firefighters and police officers coordinated the efforts and kept onlookers away from the danger zone. A cloud of smoke arose as crews used heavy machinery to remove the structure.

City of Pine Bluff attorney Althea Hadden-Scott said the municipality is currently spending at least $15,500 from the general fund to conduct the demolition, including the asbestos remediation.

“The city’s procedure is to put a lien against his property, and we will do that in the amount that is expended against his building,” Hadden-Scott said, noting that some invoices have not been received.

“The demolition will be complete within one week,” she said. “He will still own the property. Once it is completed, I will have the total cost.”

Trice’s building has repeatedly dropped bricks onto a neighboring office building at 618 Main St. that is owned by Main Street Development LLC. Its majority member, Lloyd F. Lee, operates his accounting company in the building, which has been damaged by debris from Trice’s structure. Lee said that bricks fell onto 618 Main St. on Tuesday, April 11, and again on Tuesday night when a round of storms with high winds rolled through the city.

“It crushed the air conditioning units,” Lee said. “Luckily, I have a friend who loaned me some air conditioning units. We got most of the holes patched in the back of the building, so we are not going to take on too much water.”

Lee said he will move his office by Aug. 31 and salvage his building.

“I reserve the salvage rights to the building,” Lee said. “We will salvage doors, windows, wiring, light fixtures, and the curtain walls. We will have to repair the damages on the back of the building in order to put it back up.”

The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library Board has signed an agreement with Main Street Development LLC to purchase 618 Main St. for a new facility. The deal comes after Pine Bluff voters approved a 3.0-mill tax increase to raise $14 million for construction of a new main library.

Lee said that Main Street Development LLC has lost tenants because of Trice’s damaged building. He said that an eye doctor had signed a lease, yet Lee allowed him to leave without consequences.

“I am happy that the threat of danger is going to be eliminated and that they are going to be able to open up the street,” Lee said. “I don’t have any personal animosity toward Garland Trice. I can fully understand if you don’t have money — that’s the problem. I do not know why he has refused to respond or do what he needs to do.”

“I offered to take his property over and have the building torn down in exchange for the land,” Lee said of Trice. “He rejected that offer in 2014. He is getting punished in his own way because he is going to be responsible eventually for any damages to my building. My insurance company is not going to let that rest.”

Just down the street, Jimmy Dill owns Pine Bluff Title Company at the corner of Main Street and Eighth Avenue. He has also been losing customers due to Trice’s building forcing the closure of Main Street. He stepped outside his office to watch the demolition.

“I am elated,” Dill said. “Thank you, Mayor Washington, and the City Ccuncil. We’ve had customers who can’t get to the front of our building. Thankfully, a lot of customers were willing to fight their way around to get to us.”

Community activist Jack Foster opposed the demolition, contending the city will be liable to pay Trice in a lawsuit. Foster said he was under the impression that the “demolition of this building was tied up in court.”

“I am trying to figure out if the court order has been lifted,” Foster said.

He questioned why the city had not removed the building in the previous nearly three years based on its danger.

“What’s the rush now?” Foster said. “The contractor who is taking the building down. Was it competitively bidded? If it was not competitively bidded, that means it would have to have been waived. I don’t think the council has met and waived competitive bidding. There are some problems here that need to be addressed. If my thinking is correct, I think the city of Pine Bluff is going to pay Trice for his building.”