October 7 was first set as the deadline for demolishing 255-257 Columbia Street. Then October 7 became the deadline for Chris Gilbert to submit a plan for stabilizing the building. When Gilbert decided that meeting the deadline would be impossible and reluctantly withdrew his offer to buy the building, Mayor Rick Scalera was quoted in the Register-Star as saying that demolition would begin on Monday or Tuesday, October 10 or 11. Today is October 17, and the building is still standing.
On Friday, October 14, Reverend Kim Singletary, on behalf of the Overcomers Ministries, released the following open letter explaining the sequence of recent events. Gossips is happy for the opportunity to publish her account of the past--perhaps the last--few weeks in the life of this building.
On Friday, September 23rd, representing Overcomers Ministries, I attended the hearing scheduled for the City's request to order that the building be demolished. At the hearing, the Mayor informed me that the City would allow us to deed the property back and they would in turn demolish it and sell the property to a developer. My reply was that I was not in the position to make such a decision for Overcomers Ministries, people who had continued with hope against hope to believe that one day the Family Life Center would become reality, and people who had made initial investments in the purchase of the property and work done on it. I asked for clarification about what other options we had as per the order request, and the time frames for meeting them. We were given 7 days, including Saturday and Sunday to present a plan for any other option.
After conferences with our officers we had to admit that 5 business days was not enough time for us to present and have approved by the City an engineers plan for stabilization, neither could we pay for demolition ourselves. Primarily because, if the building was indeed in imminent danger of collapse we also did not want to see anyone harmed, we agreed to the option in which the City would demolish the building and tax Overcomers on it in the 2012 Tax year. When our Attorney and I conveyed this decision to John Connors, City Attorney on Sept. 28th, we learned that the man who owned the Cannonball Factory had expressed interest in purchasing the building, and who we should call to make contact with him.
In an effort to apologize and inform the community ourselves, I wrote and delivered into the mail slot at the Register Star, an open Letter to the Editor, explaining the events and our decision based on the viability of the options presented to us.
We also followed up on John Connors suggestion, and sought contact with the prospective buyer. We were told that the referenced person did not have any information about someone interested in the building. With three days to our deadline left, I was contacted by a Realtor friend that the gentleman who owned the Cannonball Factory (Mr. Gilbert) had contacted her. Mr. Gilbert and I discussed the sale of the property via phone on Tues. Oct. 5th. He explained that he had experience and interest in saving buildings in this type of situation. He said he had an inside look at the property and did not think it was in a state of near collapse. He told me that the building inspector had given him an estimate of what it would cost to demolish the building, and if demolished the land would be worth $35k. I asked him what he was offering, and he told me $10k. On behalf of Overcomers I made an authorized counter offer, and he decided to think on it. On Wed. he called with another offer which I told him I would present. With Church approval and on the condition that I make sure the intent for the building would be of help to the community I contacted Mr. Gilbert and we met on the afternoon of Thurs. October 6th. I explained to him that it was important to us that the building not be flipped, and that it be used for purposes that would help the community. He said he was interested in renovating it for a peer school or commerical space and to create jobs. Pleased that jobs would be created (also our intent) and that the opportunity had presented itself by which the building could be saved, he and I shook hands on a deal. He then told me that the building Inspector had contacted him and wanted to tour the building with him after our meeting to lay out for him what work needed to be done in order to avoid the City's scheduled demolition, Friday. Our handshake agreement (understandably) was contingent upon the outcome of that meeting. Mr. Gilbert expressed his reservations about being able to meet the City deadlines. I sought to alleviate his stress by telling him that I would be meeting with a developer the following week, and that if he (Mr. Gilbert) did not buy it, we would continue to believe (as stated in our letter to the editor) that something would be built to bless and help the community.
On Friday, Oct. 7th, I retrieved a message from Mr. Gilbert which stated, "Unfortunately, I have bad news. After visiting the building with the building inspector I was told that we would have to provide an architect plan and an engineer plan, and this is too costly for us to do. I am sorry that I did not get involved with this project sooner, and unfortunately for this reason we will have to back out. I'm sorry. If you want to you can call me."
The first of the several Register Star articles which had inaccurate information was written without any effort to include us. Because many of us have not experienced this paper to practice fair and balanced reporting we submitted our Letter to the Editor to Speak for us. We retrieved one message from the Register Star after we submitted our Letter. That is the only instance that a Register Star reporter reached out to us in the numerous times they have chosen to write about this situation. I was also told, that the latest article states the Mayor is seeking to do a study for asbestos abatement. In talking with people familiar with the property prior to our ownership, and from our own experience with several developers and contractors that have been in the building to advise us and give us estimates over the years that we have owned it, no one has seen or raised the presence of asbestos as an issue. Neither was this mentioned in the interior and exterior report the City received from its own agent on August 30th.
For the record we always have been willing, and have not given up talking to people who may be interested and able to help bring the building to life and be a help in our Community.
If you are, or know of such a one, feel free to contact us.
It is my hope that our voice will be heard as we speak to you through this writing.
Rev. Kim L. Singletary