A resolution to remove the Kress building in downtown Pine Bluff from the list of properties that are declared public nuisances will go to the City Council Monday without a recommendation for approval from the council’s Development and Planning Committee.
During a meeting of that committee on Tuesday, Alderman Glen Brown Jr., who is chairman of the committee, said he was not inclined to remove the building, which was placed on the list in 2014, from the list without a plan for what is to be done with the structure.
Committee member Alderman Bill Brumett said he was also not prepared to go along with the resolution, which did not show who was sponsoring it.
The building is owned by former Pine Bluff resident Elvin Moon, who currently lives in California. Committee member Alderwoman Thelma Walker said she had talked to Moon and he was requesting that it be taken off the list so it could be boarded up and “create a nice appearance outside.”
Former Pine Bluff alderman and self-described community activist Jack Foster, who said he was acting as a representative of Moon, said until the future use of the building could be reevaluated, Moon would “like to mothball it.”
A structural report prepared April 11, 2017, by Hall Engineering Group of Little Rock said the roof, floor structure and ceiling structure of the building have been fully removed with the exception of the main steel horizontal and vertical supports fully attached to the outer walls. The report said the outer brick walls and steel structure attached to the walls are “considered structurally sound.”
“The steel structure is fully integrated into the walls and therefore the walls should not fall over,” the report said.
Both Foster and Walker asked that Moon be treated the same as downtown property owner Dee Herring Gatlin was when she was allowed to board up property she owns at the corner of Fourth Avenue and State Street. Like the Kress building, that property, a former hardware store, has no roof.
“What is Dee Herring’s plan?” Foster said. “It (the building) has been sitting there for over a year. Who boarded it up?”
“It (the Kress building) has been condemned for four years,” Brown said. “It’s not anywhere near up to code.”
“I don’t think a lot of the buildings downtown are up to code,” Walker said. “I recommend that you allow him to fix it up. It’s not an eyesore. It’s just old.”
According to the resolution, the Kress building at 326 Main St. shares a wall with the adjoining building, and if the steel beams came down it would probably cause damage to the other building, which is currently not on the condemned list.
The back of that building has reportedly collapsed, and Brown said it needed to be inspected, too.
In 2015, Moon was found guilty of failing to demolish or repair the building by Pine Bluff District Judge John Kearney. He was given six months to demolish the building and fined but appealed that ruling to Jefferson County Circuit Court.
In March 2017, Circuit Judge Robert H. Wyatt Jr. found Moon guilty of violating a section of the city code by failing to abate the building, which had been declared a nuisance. Wyatt gave Moon 10 days to begin tearing down the building and 30 days to complete the work or he could be held in contempt of court.
On the same day that Moon was convicted in district court, he held a news conference to announce that he would hire contractors to tear down the buildings he owned in the downtown area, which included the Kress building, the former Hood building at 124 W. 4th Ave., the former Cleo’s Furniture store on Pine Street and the condemned building at 219 Main St. adjacent to the law office of State Senator Stephanie Flowers. Flowers’ office shares a wall with that building.
Since Moon held his press conference, the former Hood building, the former Cleo’s building and buildings on West Barraque and West Fourth Avenue have been torn down, and workmen have been seen on the roof of the building at 219 S. Main St.
However, since the wood around the windows and the roof was removed on the Kress building last year, no workmen have been seen or progress made.
In August 2017, Pine Bluff City Attorney Althea Hadden explained why Moon had not been found in contempt of court for failing to comply with Wyatt’s order to tear down the Kress building.
“Mr. Moon has consistently been in communication with the City about the progress of the demolition of his property,” Hadden wrote in an e-mail.
“He contracted with Mr. Bradshaw (Mr. Brick) to demolish the Kress Building, which proceeded until the building was fully gutted. He was, subsequently, contacted by a member of the Downtown Development Committee about preserving and renovating the building. During the dialogue between Mr. Moon and Downtown Development, there was a delay.
“Once I communicated with him that objectives of Downtown Development does not supersede the resolution, ordering the razing and removal of the building, nor the Court’s order to demolish said structure, Mr. Moon instructed Mr. Brick to resume the demolition. Because he has actively demonstrated his sincere intent to comply with Court’s Order and the directive given by the City Council, a Contempt Petition has not been filed… .”