Howell County News/ Amanda MendezHowell County News/ Amanda Mendez

Preservation vs. Public Safety Fears

Alderman: "We've kicked this can down the road way too far."
A building on Main Street was on the agenda twice last week: once when the Willow Springs Board of Aldermen met for their regular meeting on Monday and then again on Thursday when the aldermen reconvened for a special meeting. The building in question stands at the southeast corner of Main and Center. Its bulging brick walls and partially missing roof have necessitated closed adjacent sidewalks for years. 
On Monday, July 25, there were no representatives of Main Street Willow Springs present at the meeting of the Board of Aldermen. The building has been owned by the non-profit organization since 2020. The group was advised by City Administrator Beverly Hicks their building would be on the agenda, there was no reply to that email. Rather, Hicks had approached board member Mary Jones in person and was able to provide an update. Monday's update was the group was searching for contractors to do the work required to stabilize the wall, but they do have an agreement with a contractor to repair the roof. 
"What I shared with [Jones] is I felt like the council was going to continue to have this on the agenda for the foreseeable future to continue to get updates," Hicks said Monday night. 
The aldermen agreed. Without giving an ultimatum or invoking nuisance property ordinances, they decided what they really wanted from Main Street Willow Springs was a timeline. 
"If it's not fixed or taken down, it's going to come down," suggested Alderman David Collins.
"It's reasonable to ask them to have a firm timeline by the next meeting," put in Alderwoman Kim Rich.
"We've tried to work with them, and I think we have been reasonable," replied City Administrator Hicks. "I don't feel like we're being fed any information. I have to ask every time. We were told we would receive a letter from them with a timeline [after the May meeting], and we never did."
"We're not that far from winter," added Alderman Danny Bradley. "I'm worried about the winter."
Howell County News asked how concerned the City is about its own liability if the building were to come down. Before City Administrator Hicks answered, City Attorney Zane Privette raised a hand to indicate he would speak and commented only, "Very concerned."
During Thursday's special meeting, board members Jeff Conger, Judy Vokac, Christy Graves, and Mary Jones were present. 
Acting as spokesman, Conger informed the aldermen that the group had a bid from local business-and-property owner Blake Browne via his mason for $80,000 to shore the roof and repair the wall. Conger had previously mentioned this bid at the May meeting. His update on Thursday was he still did not have a schedule for the work. Main Street Willow Springs has been seeking other bids for services for the wall without successfully locating a contractor. Conger also reported he had a bid from Hollis Roofing for $6,000 to patch the roof and a $22,000 bid to completely repair the roof. Hollis was scheduled to patch the roof the week following the meeting. 
Conger specifically inquired if City Administrator Hicks would make contact with Blake Browne on behalf of the group regarding a timeline, confirms the meeting minutes. 
"If Blake and his guy could to it, that would be our best, quickest bet," said Conger.
Hicks stepped out of the meeting to call Browne at 5:51 p.m., returning at 5:56 p.m. to inform council that Browne would visit with his mason and get back with her.
Ensuing comments and questions from the Board of Aldermen vacillated between concerns for public safety and appreciation for the group's willingness to save the building.
"The bottom line is we just need to get a timeline. We've kicked this can down the road way too far," said Alderman Collins. 
"I understand the City's got concerns. So do we. I understand everyone's got an opinion," replied Conger.
"They all want to talk negative about this building, but they don't want to show up to our meetings," lamented board member Christy Graves. The board of Main Street Willow Springs meets the first Tuesday of the month at 9:00 a.m. in the Ferguson Building. Positions are available on the board.
"I'm not worried about the negative talk as much as I am worried about having open communication," commented Alderwoman Rich. "Having a date on the roof helps a lot. And thank you for coming and for everything."
Before closing, the aldermen asked that the group provide the City with information regarding their liability insurance. City Administrator Hicks promised to follow up with Browne on the group's behalf. Main Street Willow Springs has been requested to provide another update by the aldermen's next meeting on Aug. 25. 
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