The blighted Hopeville Apartments in the heart of the Historic District have received new life thanks to Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr.’s administration. At the City Council meeting Monday, the council introduced two ordinances that will repeal the 2019 condemnation of the apartments. They were built in the early 1960s but have languished as unoccupied, crumbling structures housing transients for years. City Attorney Alex Washington said he had conference calls with the owners, Sterling Bank of Poplar Bluff, Mo.
If the City repeals the condemnation ordinances, Sterling Bank will drop the suit it filed against the City and be able to move forward with construction and repairs. Washington said the apartments would be available community wide. The bank will have time to provide a timeline for renovations before the final vote on the ordinance Feb. 22. Sterling Bank holds the mortgage on the Hopeville Apartments at 312 Second St., that includes four apartment buildings and one accessory building.
Hopeville Partners obtained a construction loan from the bank to renovate the existing buildings with the intent of providing low-income housing. However, neither Hopeville Partners nor Sterling Bank took adequate steps to secure the buildings that sometimes houses transients and has crumbling doors, windows and balconies. In its suit, the bank said it submitted new constructions plans that were approved by the State Fire Marshall and applied for a new building permit.
The City condemned the structures in November of 2019 and Sterling Bank filed suit against the City in December. Sterling Bank disbursed $2.3 million toward the project according to the suit.
Eddie Harrington, who was on the council that condemned the apartments, was vocal in his objections to repealing the condemnation. “We’ve been here many times, four times, and every time they tell us something and they didn’t do it.” He said he was disappointed that it was on the agenda after such a long time. “I’m ashamed we gave them as long as we did when we give our citizens (who have condemned property) 30 to 60 days. They’ve had years.” Harrington said that the City inspector, as well as an inspector on the job, said the buildings should be condemned because they were unsafe.
Councilman Dale Nielsen opposed the ordinance saying the City had given the bank multiple opportunities to improve the complex with no results. He said there would be no local ownership and no one had approached the City since last August about the condition of the property.
Councilperson-at-Large Betty Sawyer-Smith said the City could give the bank a list of concerns about the complex. She said there was a need for affordable housing since not everyone could live on St. Clair. Williams said that the bank had given the City assurances the project would go forward and showed him other properties in which they had invested. He said the complex could be easily refurbished
In another matter, the Council tabled a request from Wayne and Lila Spillman to overturn a decision by the City Planning and Zoning Commission to deny them a variance for an addition to the front of their home at 521 Whitfield. The addition has been built 13 feet into the 25-foot setback required by the City building code. Lila Spillman said after the cover was built, they were told it did not meet the City Code. She requested that they be allowed to finish the repairs that were necessary after a tree fell on the house during Hurricane Laura.
Planning and Zoning Director Shontrell Roque said the addition was non-conforming and the Spillmans had been asked for plans for a smaller structure. Harrington recommended they return to the planning and zoning commission, an action that could potentially speed up the project. Had it been voted down at the council meeting, it would be six months before it could be brought up again.
In other business, the council:
•Gave final approval for a lease with the National Park Service for the former Eagle Distributing Office for park headquarters
•Introduced an ordinance authorizing extension of franchise to Paul’s Party Boat, with members and manager Paul Lohr and Douglas Dunn
•Contracted with Travelers Casualty and Surety Co., of America for public official bond for annual premium of $5,250
•Entered Master Services Agreement with KSA Engineers for airport commission
•Contracted with Employers Risk Management for worker’s compensation for annual premium of $13,838
•Approved certificate of substantial completion between City and DSW Construction for renovations to Eagle Distributing Co. During the pre-meeting, Dantario Danspry gave a presentation about HomeServe, a company that offers an insurance for infrastructure problems with leakage, water and sewer. The company is certified with The National League of Cities. The program is available to residential, single-family homeowners who pay monthly fees. The City receives 50 cents for each enrollment and must be in partnership with HomeServe for the program to operate.