Q&A: What now for the "old Wayne Street poolroom," and why has it taken five years?
It looks like an image from a war-torn country, but it's located in the heart of Milledgeville's downtown.
Now, after more than five full years, the condemned building at 109 South Wayne St. may finally be domolished and repurposed. The property previously was home to Doc Oliver's poolroom and Sonny's Brew & Cue, although it'd already been vacant for several years prior to its collapse.
Here's an overview of the situation in a nifty question-and-answer format:
Q: What happened, originally?
A: It was Memorial Day 2018 when heavy rain caused the roof of the building to cave in and collapse. A very loud boom could be heard for several blocks, although downtown was basically empty on account of the holiday. The property quickly became both an eye sore and logistical problem, as the sidewalk was closed and parking places blocked off.
Q: Why does it still look like it did five years ago?
A: It's sort of complicated. Much of it is legalese and has to do with litigation and mitigation and codes and statutes. Also, the building's owner, an older gentleman named Larry Simmons from Conyers, was under the impression that the property was worth at least $500,000. At that price, there were never any takers. City Hall also offered to work with Simmons on a "revolving loan fund" through the Department of Community Affairs, but "the building's owner never filled out the application," according to City Councilman Walter Reynolds, whose district includes the heart of downtown.
Reynolds added that "we did not want to just take the property from the owner and go through the eminent domain process," adding that "we worked for many years in good faith with the owner and tried every possible avenue other than eminent domain."
Also, in recent years, there was other pending litigation. The property owner first sued a roofing company, claiming that the roofer previously performed haphazard work on the roof, which is why it collapsed. That lawsuit was thrown out, though, and the property owner then claimed that the city's stormwater system backed up and caused the roof to collapse. That didn't work either.
Neighboring merchants eventually became more and more frustrated...
Q: Is it finally time?
A: The city government has received permission from a judge to issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) to demolish the building. It may be a complete demo, or the facade of the building may be reinforced and secured, with everything behind it pancaked and removed. That is to be determined. For the time being, Simmons still owns the building. Upon completion of the demolition, however, Simmons will be required to reimburse the city government for the cost of the demolition project. If he fails to do so, the city government will be the property's new owner?
Q: What's the timetable?
A: Barring anything drastically unforeseen, Reynolds said that the "plan is to complete the (demolition) project by (the) Deep Roots (Festival)," which is in mid-October.
Q: What's the future of the property?
A: First and foremost, Simmons still owns the property, and he'll have the opportunity to reimburse the city for the demo and maintain ownership rights. If that doesn't happen, the City Council could put the property on the market and sell it. Or, the City Council could choose to repurpose the property.
One possibility, according to Reynolds, would be an open-air "pocket park" on the property. Dublin chose to do this several years after one of its old buildings on Jackson Street burned down. The Dublin Downtown Development Authority boasts that its Jackson Street Plaza "includes a new green space featuring a meandering water feature, lush vegetation, patios, and swings...The pedestrian-friendly space connects new off-street parking to the shops and restaurants along West Jackson Street."
Dublin's "Jackson Street Plaza"
"It would create outdoor dining and opportunities for people to gather. (The property at 109 South Wayne St.) actually is a fairly large space," Reynold said.
However, Reynolds added that "that's just me dreaming" and that there haven't been any discussions around City Hall about what do with the property, assuming the city government takes over ownership, one way or the other.