The facades may stay, but rest of West Union buildings “total loss”

Though five West Union Street buildings destroyed months ago by a fire are “unstable,” city officials have agreed to keep the facades standing and apply for a tax credit that would help pay for some repairs.

“(The buildings’ walls) are unstable right now, “ said City Code Enforcement Director John Paszke.

The city will only keep the front of the buildings with the most extensive damage, including Kismet, Jack Neal Floral, Smoke Zone Smoke Shop and Campus Sundry.

Paszke said some of the buildings, such as Kismet, were a “total loss.”

“All that we’re attempting to save is the front of the buildings,” he said. “The rest of that structure will be gone. It will be demolished.”

Paszke said what remains of those buildings has lost structural integrity.

The Union and Jackie O’s Public House will keep its facades and structures and make repairs around them because they did not suffer as much damage.

The Athens’s Government Channel released a video Feb. 20 detailing the fire’s destruction, which revealed piles of rubble and burnt wood behind the brick store fronts.

“There’s nothing to go in; there’s nothing to see,” Paszke said. “There’s no evidence of furniture, clothing or appliances.”

Athens City Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said the buildings have yet to be demolished, as “that’s up to the owners.”

“I don’t think the owners down there want to do something rash,” Fahl said.

Uptown Dog T-Shirt Shop’s former home at 10 W. Union St. has been evacuated due to its neighboring building being on the verge of collapse, Paszke said.

10 W. Union only sustained minor damages, including damage to the rear of the building.

Next door, 12 W. Union St., the former location of Jack Neal Floral, Paszke outlined the damages as follows:

– The building lost its second-floor apartments

– The rear of the first floor was destroyed

– The rest of the building received copious amounts of smoke and water damage, but is still in tact

– Exterior walls are shifting

The former home of The Smoke Zone and Campus Sundry, 14 W. Union St., will maintain it’s facade, but the rest of the building will be demolished, Paszke said.

Kismet “is a total loss with the exception of … the facade,” Paszke said. The damages to Kismet are as follows:

– Loss of roof

– Completely burned-out interior

– Steel structural beams were twisted

The Union Bar and Grille, which occupied 18 W. Union St. for roughly 100 years, already has construction underway with the building of a new roof.

“It’s in the process right now,” Paszke said.

Jackie O’s Public House, 22 W. Union, which shared a kitchen with The Union, only requires a roof repair.

Not all building owners have set a concrete repair plan, Paszke said, though to his knowledge, all owners plan on rebuilding.

“12, 14 and 16 (West Union St.)… The property owners would like to have buildings done by the fall of 2016 before school starts,” Paszke said.

Paszke said meeting with various owners of the properties has been difficult, but city officials have been setting up meetings with the various parties to get construction underway.

“It’s a very complicated process,” Paszke said. “We’re doing what we can to find them financial assistance.”

One of those plans includes declaring the affected buildings part of a historic district.

A historic designation would qualify the buildings for historic tax credits, City Planner Paul Logue said in a previous Post report. Those credits would help with reconstruction efforts by matching every dollar spent by 25 percent.

City council brought forward an ordinance Monday that would grant the buildings that designation.

Though some construction efforts are underway, Deputy Service Safety Director Ron Lucas said the cause of the fire is still undetermined — and it might remain that way.

“There is a very real possibility that the cause is never found,” Lucas said. “Sometimes the fire gets so hot that the evidence is gone.”

Paszke said the fire reached estimated temperatures of 950 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“They know where the fire started, but (the state fire marshal hasn’t) released a cause. This is a frustration,” Lucas said.



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