By Carolyn Roy, News Editor
The City Council has begun a move to demolish the blighted Hopeville Apartments in the heart of the Historic District. The two-building complex was formerly known as the Summertree Apartments. The property is adjacent to the Kappa Alpha Fraternity House. At the meeting Monday, the City Council introduced an ordinance that basically condemns the property at 312 Second St. Owned by the Hopeville Partners LP, in Alpharetta, Ga., the deteriorating structure is on a list of four properties the City says are dangerous, unsanitary and unsafe for the public.
Two representatives of Sterling Bank in Clayton, Mo., were at the meeting to ask for time to secure the structure. Sterling associate Timothy Tryniecki said the first contractor quit the job in the summer of 2017. The project stalled until April of 2019 when architects inspected the structure and found it to be structurally sound. It was supposed to have been secured but someone “didn’t do what he was supposed to do” and the structure had fallen further into disrepair Tryniecki said. He provided an affidavit from Mako Construction stating that under a new contract, they will clean the property and finish construction in six months. It will take two months to complete the contract before work can begin.
Another Sterling Bank associate, Philip Minden, said that the complex would consist of 40, one-bedroom units of subsidized housing. “Its real value is for the tax credits,” he said. Owners have until December of 2020 to complete the construction or lose the credits. According to the condemnation ordinance, owners have 30 days from its introduction to secure the building or get it to code. At the council meeting Aug. 26, the City Council can decide whether to proceed with the demolition. Councilman-at-Large Don Mims said his concern was that the project was in the wrong place, in the middle of the Historic District. Councilman Lawrence Batiste said the council should keep in mind safety in the area and that the City had, at great expense, redeveloped City Park.
He said without great enforcement, the project would not succeed. Councilman Dale Nielsen said it took only minimal effort for such a project to enter the market. “The tax credit is driving this in the wrong area.”
Councilman Eddie Harrington said it was not a fit for the Historic District. “It doesn’t fit anywhere in the city, period. We’re not in support of it.” Mayor Lee Posey was even more outspoken. He told the Sterling Bank associates that he had called a meeting to suggest a better project for the area. “I told you that if you couldn’t put anything good for our community in that area, I’d do everything I could to stop it. I can’t help that whoever made a bad investment that didn’t work.”
Posey said there was already a lot of subsidized housing in the city and he wanted to raise the bar rather than adding more. He told the bank associates, “I know you don’t live in this community. We have a really special community down here and this is not something that is going to help. I’m going to have to do everything possible to protect our community.” The saga of the apartments began in 2016 when the La. Housing Corp., said there would be a $4.5 million renovation of the apartments to house homeless and homeless veterans. The project received a $3.7 million tax credit and occupancy would be persons at or below 60 percent median income.
Additional funding totaling $425,000 was to come from Alden Torch Financial based in Colorado. La. Housing communications officer Natasha L. Joseph-Anderson said the applicant was VOB, owned by Verlyn Foley and based in Alpharetta, Ga. Expert Maintenance and Construction Services of Prairieville was contractor/builder. The project began in October 2016 and was slated for completion of phase one by mid-summer. 2017.
Shortly after summer began in 2017, renovations came to a halt and the property fell into further into disrepair. There had been no action since that time until the Planning and Zoning Commission issued notices to owners and surrounding property owners about the condemnation ordinance. Among the owners of nearby properties asking the City to stop the project were Danny Seymour and Edwin Dunahoe.
Other properties listed for demolition in the ordinance that was introduced are:
•1457 Washington, owner Midwest Management, Lincoln, Neb.
•1429 Washington, owners Lois Breaux and Forrest Kavanaugh
•717 Pavie, owners Clyde and Inez Thompson