City Council passes ordinance for Plant B

Jan. 24, 2013 @ 02:58 PM

Thomasville City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday night giving the owner of the former Thomasville Furniture Industries Plant B building 90 days to start improving the site or demolish it.
Council unanimously approved the ordinance, which also authorizes city staff to go onto the property to take corrective actions to secure the site. City attorney Paul Mitchell said the ordinance "takes the order of the building inspector to the next level" and gives council several options when it comes to abating the nuisance created by the 100-year-old eyesore. City Inspector Mike Cranford issued a finding of fact to Fisher Ferry LLC, the company that owns the plant, on Oct. 18, 2012, allowing 60 days to bring the structure up to compliance. When nothing happened, the city elected to move on with the ordinance.
"The ordinance does not direct the property to be demolished immediately," Mitchell said. "It directs in the first place the property owner or the LLC secure the property and make it safe. That is, we agree, the most important step. Second, if that doesn't occur, then it needs to be demolished. There are 90 days in which to do that."
During a public hearing, Frank Edmondson, a representative of Fisher Ferry LLC, told council that property owner Jeff Schwarz doesn't intend to let the building crumble to ground and would like more time to rectify the matter. Edmondson said that should council elect to begin the abatement and condemnation process and start placing liens on the property, he would advise Schwarz to file for bankruptcy on behalf of Fisher Ferry LLC.
"Like it or not, it will get through bankruptcy and you will end up with a building without being able to put liens on it," said Edmondson. "It's not what the city wants and it's absolutely not what Jeff wants. We want to try and make this work as much as we can."
Edmondson said Fisher Ferry LLC does not have the assets to begin addressing the dilapidated structure, as Schwarz owns thousands of properties, including many with tenants. Edmondson said he understands the city's situation but providing a timetable is something he can't do at this point.
"The city doesn't want to take on this responsibility and we don't want to either, but it's our asset and we plan on doing something about it," Edmondson said. "What [Schwarz] wants is to have sufficient time. Now it's up to Mr. Schwarz. if he does want to consider abiding by what the city's decision is or look at the financial ramifications of it. We have considered a corporate bankruptcy. It's going to put the burden on the city basically. This will only be if they do file some liens. It would put the entire burden on the city then."
Several council members expressed their willingness to work with Schwarz after more than two years of inactivity at the site. Council would like to see that some efforts are being made to keep the property secure and abate the nuisance.
"We're willing to work with them in any way we can, as we have been for two years now," said Councilman Raleigh York. "You've got 90 days, that's three months. That's a lot of good time that you can show us the good faith that you have in abating this problem."
Councilman Neal Grimes said trust is becoming an issue.
"Why should we trust you now?" Grimes asked Edmondson. "We want to. We want you to fix the building. We don't want to have to tear it down but it's kind of hard at the 11th and a half hour to say 'OK lets throw all this aside and trust you' because we have not been able to count on anything you or any of your representatives have said."
When asked how the situation reached this point following the meeting, Edmondson said local municipalities don't do a very good job of keeping people out of vacant buildings. He said a security fence is not going to stop vagrants or other trespassers from gaining access to the site.
"The fence isn't going to stop too many people," Edmondson said. "It's not a beautiful property. Its gone under a lot of hardship the past couple of years. We know it's not beautiful but we're not going to let it rot to the ground. We're also not going to be forced to make something in their city beautiful. The building really has been taken advantage of. It's unfortunate. Right now, all I can do is discuss with Mr. Schwarz what his options are and hopefully we will be able to work something out with the city."
Demolishing the plant is expected to cost approximately $400,000. Cranford told Mitchell the costs of bringing the building up to code would exceed 50 percent of its value.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or