Phenix City Council OKs Fifth Avenue factory demolition

Building adjacent to new parking deck

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 21, 2014 

The owner of a prime piece of downtown Phenix City property asked council for one final chance to salvage a dilapidated old casket factory and textile mill before the city moves forward with a costly demolition of the steel and concrete structure.

There were no takers on council.

The building at 1500 Fifth Ave. overlooks the new Courtyard Marriott under construction just north of the recently opened 14th Street pedestrian bridge connecting Phenix City and Columbus.

Council denied an appeal of the condemnation from owner Ellis Austin of Wetumpka, Ala., on Oct. 16 and gave him 67 days to get the 33,000-square-foot building demolished.

The building, roof falling in and vacant for more than a decade, is still standing. Austin and his real estate agent, Mike Bowden, told council during a Tuesday work session prior to Tuesday’s 6 p.m. scheduled meeting, that several potential buyers had surfaced for the property since it was condemned.

“I thought the agreement was if it was not down by Dec. 31, we will move forward,” Mayor Eddie Lowe said. “This council wants to be consistent. If we do something for one, we will do it for all.”

The property is adjacent to a new parking deck the city is building as it prepares to reinvest in the riverfront in the wake of the new Chattahoochee whitewater course.

The building had been on the market for $450,000, Bowden told council.

“They are willing to sell the building at a much, much lesser price than he was asking,” Bowden said.

Lowe held firm.

“We can’t do that at this point, any way,” Lowe said.

Austin, who was soft-spoken during the meeting, asked the city to let him explore the recent opportunities.

“Do you want to be consistent to the point that you don’t take in new information when it comes to you?” he asked.

Councilman Jim Cannon, also a local historian, said he has been through the building a couple of times.

“Pitiful,” he said. “Once you opened the doors you could see the roof is caved in. I was shocked at the condition.”

Councilman Chris Blackshear said the property as it stands is a liability.

“We’re in the middle of it right now if it falls down,” Blackshear said.

Austin said after the meeting he had gotten five estimates to demolish the building. The prevailing price was about $70,000, he said. The city has also been exploring options for demolition.

Gil Griffith, the chief building officer for Phenix City, said if Austin moves forward with the demolition, the city will not object.

“It will be more cost effective for him to take it down,” Griffith said.

If the city has to take the building down, it will place a lien on it that will have to be settled prior to the sale of the property. Austin said he would continue to market the land once the building is gone.

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