Property owners contacted; efforts focus on cleanup
City officials have now identified and spoken with the owners of all six buildings destroyed by Sunday’s fire on Front Street and will soon begin the process to recoup close to $15,000 spent by the city to tear down the buildings.
Forrest City Code Enforcement Officer Connie Muqtasid said this morning she had spoken with Dr. Xavier Haymer, the owner of three of the Front Street buildings. She also confirmed speaking with Andrew Bass, the registered agent with NewG Holdings, LLC, based in West Memphis, which owns the other two properties on Front Street. The Times-Herald received an anonymous tip regarding Bass’ identity which was passed on to city officials this morning which helped them contact Bass. The sixth property destroyed in the fire, 117 S. Washington, housed the law offices of Sharpe, Beavers, Cline and Wright and architect Bob Beavers, and city officials have been working with the owners of that property since the weekend fire.
According to Muqtasid, Haymer said he did not have insurance on his buildings, listed as 101 through 105 Front Street, and Bass was unsure whether his buildings at 509 and 511 Front Street were insured. Muqtasid said the demolition costs totaling $15,000 would be split among the property owners, but not in equal portions.
“Our plan is to recoup the $15,000 the city has spent to bring those buildings down and on the clean-up process. It’s not going to be split evenly between the six buildings, but will be split based on the square footage of each property. The owners will be responsible for the demolition and they’ll also be responsible for the costs of removing the rubble and debris from the site,” said Muqtasid.
On Wednesday, Forrest City Mayor Larry Bryant and County Judge Gary Hughes said the county would use much of the debris for fill along county roads and bridges. Muqtasid said that while that plan may have been in place, the rubble is personal property of the owners who have the final responsibility for removal.
“I’m aware of that plan, but the bricks and rubble is actually still the property of the property owners. I did let Mr. Bass know that the county might be interested in the debris and forwarded him to the judge’s office this morning, but I don’t know what happened from there,” said Muqtasid.
If city and county crews don’t remove the debris, then a vacant building that many already considered an eyesore, along with the remains of the other buildings, could become another major eyesore in downtown Forrest City. Muqtasid said a plan is already in place to try to address that situation.
“I’m already in the process of sending the property owners a notice giving them 30 days to clean up their property. We’ve spoken with the insurance representatives from the building on South Washington and they’ve let us know that they will clean up their property, but only their square footage, so I think we’re good there. If they request more time, I don’t think that will be an issue. On the other property, we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get there, but something has to be done, and ultimately the decision may lie with the mayor and city council,” said Muqtasid.
Bass said the weekend fire was tragic and upsetting. “That was a terrible thing that happened Sunday and a tragedy. It really was tragic that someone set fire to our building and destroyed our building and those other buildings around it. These were historical buildings, and one of the reasons we bought the property in the first place was to restore the buildings and hopefully get them placed on the National Register of Historic Places, so this is really tragic and upsetting,” said Bass.
Bass said his company is weighing its options regarding debris removal at this point. “It’s too early to say at this point. We’re still finding out what our options are, and once we have all of the information we’ll weigh our options and make a decision,” said Bass.