Falling debris from Spivey Building causes concern
A year ago, bricks, mortar and other debris was falling from the Spivey building in East St. Louis, putting motorists, citizens and property in harm's way.
And the problem still hasn't been resolved.
A St. Louis businessman who owned the building a year ago no longer owns it, so there is hope now that the building will be demolished.
In the meantime, however, there are questions as to who would be responsible in case of injury or property damage.
The previous owner failed to pay taxes on the building and lost it in foreclosure.
St. Clair County's delinquent tax agent took over the deed to the property in foreclosure. But building apparently is not insured.
A local reverend who is the former head of the local branch of the NAACP says the building is a ticking bomb.
The Rev. Johnny Scott said thousands of motorists and pedestrians pass the building daily on Missouri Avenue. He is concerned that the falling brick and mortar is going to hit a motorist or a pedestrian. The 12-story Spivey building is located at 417 Missouri Ave.
"It would be devastating if a stone fell while someone was walking or driving past. Citizens are exposed to danger, and it seems like no one cares about it," Scott said. "Leaders of city, state and federal government should be up in arms over this dangerous building sitting in the city, carrying the potential to seriously injure a citizen."
Scott said spring storms could worsen the problem.
"If somebody gets hurt, who do you call? Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder could see there is a problem here that needs to be addressed," he said.
Scott said this was the same situation a couple of summers ago. At that time, two cars belonging to his colleagues at Mixon Insurance Agency were parked on the business' parking lot and were damaged by debris that fell from the building. Mixon Insurance Agency sits next to the Spivey building.
East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said her office had not received any new complaints about the building.
"Last year, our attorney contacted the owner of the building and he agreed to do work on the building. When we were made aware of the situation, we immediately jumped on it. We didn't know that, since that work was done, there was more debris falling from it. It is concerning and we want to keep our citizens safe," she said.
She said city officials would look into the matter again.
The delinquent tax agent, also known as the county trustee, is Joseph E. Meyer and Associates of Edwardsville. Whitney Strohmeyer, president of Meyer and Associates, said the company obtained the Spivey Building through a tax auction last year.
"The purchaser is the County Board, acting as trustee for the taxing districts," Strohmeyer said. "If a tax bill doesn't get paid, the county holds a tax sale, usually in November. The tax buyers are companies or individuals. Some taxes get purchased and some don't. Those that don't get purchased go to to the county, as trustee for the taxing districts."
In the case of the Spivey building, no businesses or individuals had interest in paying the delinquent taxes on the building. The person or business who pays the delinquent taxes can take ownership of the property if the delinquent taxpayers doesn't pay the delinquent taxes on the property.
"No tax buyer purchased it, so the county bought it. As opposed to letting it sit there and nothing happening, the County Board can assume that lien and foreclosure for the taxing district," Strohmeyer said.
Strohmeyer said the previous owner probably would not be responsible for any injuries or damages. And the taxing districts and the county would by shielded from liability by state law, he said.
Strohmeyer said there is no insurance on the building. "The only thing in the trust is the building," he said.
Strohmeyer said the building will probably get torn down, eventually.
"We are in the process of getting that building demolished. It's a process. It's going to take some time," Strohmeyer said.
Taking a conservative guess, Strohmeyer said, "We would hope to have it down within three to four months."
He said the county has never before had to tear down a 12-story building. "It's the only one ever,"Strohmeyer said.
"We've got bids in for asbestos, structural surveys. Once we have all of our ducks in a row, we will put it out for bids. We are absolutely moving," he said.
When Strohmeyer was asked about the possibility of the historic building being preserved, he said, "One of the steps involved is having a structural engineer look at it and to confirm whether it is in need of demolition or not. It's always a possibility. We do get calls after a house has been placed on a demolition list from people who want to preserve it. The Spivey Building is on the demolition list because it appears that bricks and debris are falling from it."
Anyone interested in buying it can call Strohmeyer's office at 618-656-5744.
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said he will work with the trustee to get the building torn down as quickly as possible.
Darrion Reed, a pedestrian who walked past the building on a recent afternoon, said he was unaware that debris had been falling from it.
"I don't want to get hurt. I don't want anyone else to get hurt. Somebody should fix it," he said.
Another pedestrian, Mario Rupert, said elected officials and code-enforcement officials "should do their job."
"They are being paid with taxpayers' money. The citizens deserve better. I want to see something done to make sure everyone who drives or walks past the building is safe. There was a fire in Belleville recently and within days, that burned-out structure was down. Why can't the same attention be paid her?" Rupert asked.
Another pedestrian, Sheldon Sheppard, said he walks in the area every day. He said he believes people don't care because it's East St. Louis.
"It doesn't just affect East St. Louis, though", Sheldon said. "We deserve the same things that everybody else gets. Why are our lives in danger?"
In January 2017, Scott complained about hunks of concrete falling from the building. The previous owner then sent workers to install temporary safety measures.
Former East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. said the previous owner got the building as part of an asbestos settlement for asbestos not being cleaned out of the building. Parks said the previous owner was looking to sell it to a developer and knew it was his responsibility until such a sale came around.
Scott said he planned to talk with city, state and federal officials about the situation.
"Everybody has a hand in this to make it safe for the citizens. I won't rest until somebody does something about this building. It's good for nothing," he said.
He added: "This is Highway 15, not just a street. It's a street and state highway. Just because East St. Louis is predominantly African-American, it's not a black problem. It's not a white problem. It's a people problem — a citizen problem."
Scott said every elected official on every level, from city to state to federal, "has a hand in fixing this problem. They promise when they are elected what they'd do. Now, it's time to carry out the program. We are their constituents. We want them to live up to their promise."