The Guthrie City Council’s regularly scheduled meeting last Tuesday evening included a public hearing regarding the two downtown buildings that were damaged in a fire February 23rd of this year. The buildings, located at 117 and 121 E. Oklahoma, were devastated in a fire that engulfed Furrow’s Flowers & Gifts and Double Stop Fiddle Shop & Music Hall. After an informative discussion in the public hearing the council gave property owners Byron and Bette Berline 30-days to submit a plan to the council on plans for securing the structural integrity of the property and provide options for rehabilitating the structures. The vote was 5-0 on the 30 day extension with Ward I councilman Jim Case and Ward II councilman Chuck Burtcher absent from the hearing.
A topic throughout the meeting was the temporary fence around the existing properties with both City Manager Leroy Alsup and Councilmen James Long bringing up the unpaid invoice.
“The fence put up around the property was a rental agreement for six months and through June 17 the bill was a little over $2400. We have, of course, sent that invoice to the property owner and however we deal with this property tonight until it’s finally resolved that will be a recurring cost,” Alsup said.
The council chambers were full of citizens for the hearing with three speakers recognized by Mayor Steve Gentling. Susan Guthrie Dunham was the first person to speak. Guthrie Dunham retired as a trustee to the National Trust for Historic Preservation last year and is a founding board member of Preservation Oklahoma, Inc.. Her association with Guthrie goes back to the days of the revitalization of Guthrie and the establishment of our various historic district designations, having been hired by BancFirst as a grant writer to identify and win funding to rehab our entire downtown. She read a letter from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in which they recommended that the City of Guthrie should exhaust all other options before demolition, due to the fact that it would erode the integrity of what is a remarkably intact downtown historic district. Guthrie Dunham stated that these two buildings are in Guthrie’s National Historic Landmark district. These districts are rare, with only 2600 in the entire country. The location also falls under the New Markets Tax Credit and qualifies for both Federal and State level credits which is an opportunity that the city manager was unaware of.
Guthrie Dunham continued by saying that if the resolution is passed, the City of Guthrie is putting a speed bump in the way for restoring and rehabbing the buildings.
“The reason I say that it’s a speed bump is because you’re putting out there a notice to any potential developer, any potential financier that at any moment the City of Guthrie could go, ‘time’s up,’ and it also sends a message that the City of Guthrie does not support historic preservation in a Landmark Historic District. It needs time, gentlemen. I understand if I were sitting there, I’m sure that you’d get calls daily but we have identified a funding source that will clean up and stabilize in the interim,” said Guthrie Dunham.
Abigail Ropp said the meeting happening in the first place was devastating and in terms of putting a plan together, the City should refer to past projects and the ordinances that were followed.
“My comments would just be that you please take a look at prior projects that have been restored and the timelines [that have been taken] and maybe use that as a guide as long as the groups involved in rehabilitation provide you ample information,” Ropp said.
Mayor Gentling asked Ropp for her personal consideration of a reasonable timeframe for the full restoration, which Ropp responded one to two years depending on the scope of the project but that her main concern is making sure the building is shored up and that the debris is cleaned out so that it’s not a public safety concern when property owners interested in purchasing the building come out.
“We’ve seen zero proposals, zero anything from anybody. I mean, you know, I keep hearing ‘we stabilize, we this, we that’ but who is we and where are they? I mean, we can’t go ‘we’re gonna’ and there’s nobody here saying we’re doing it. So that’s kind of why we have to do this meeting because there is no proposal, there is nobody doing anything,” Councilman Don Channel said.
Ropp responded that within the past 48 hours, they solidified a person to donate the money to fix the building.
Carol Hirzel said that every week since the fire, she and her husband Jeff have been in contact with potential investors as well as Bryon Berline. Not only is there money for the stabilization and cleanup of the buildings but the Hirzels are “spearheading it and ready to go.”
That’s when Bryon Berline spoke up.
“You know how I feel, I’d like this to be resurrected, if at all possible. Betty and I can’t afford to do it and we want to keep going. That’s why we bought another building. I would hate to see it demolished, but if that’s what has to be then that’s what it would be. I really appreciate these folks’ concern and want to preserve that building and to be able to put the money into it. (indicating the supporters in the gallery) As far as a timeline, I would hope you’ll work with us on that. We don’t want to wait forever, for sure we know that, but a decent timeline would be great if you could see to do that for us. I just appreciate all the interest in the building and wanting to preserve it,” Berline said.
Mayor Gentling took time to state that the City was not an “adversary” in the situation.
“The city is not an adversary. We have a responsibility to the community and to the safety of the community. Please do not interpret the resolution as being adversarial,” said Gentling.
Guthrie Dunham asked for 30 days “of simmer time” that would result in a firm bid and a firm commitment for the stabilization and debris removal.
The council then gave the group thirty days to come back to the council with a plan.
After the public hearing on the downtown buildings, the council then went to work on demolition contracts on previous properties approved for demolition. There were five homes approved. A sixth one was delayed as a family member showed up at the meeting and asked for time to fix up the property. The motion was approved unanimously.
The council also heard a lengthy presentation from Alsup on ambulance fees, receivables and uncollectible accounts. After sharing spreadsheets and numbers with the council, Alsup told the group that there would be further discussion in the August workshop and in the future budget discussions. Alsup told the council the fix for flood damage on Pine is around $250,000 and the city is waiting for the federal disaster declaration for communities to fix the road.
The council ended their night with an executive session.