Should Albany tear down vacant buildings?

Heritage House

Assistant City Manager Wes Smith says around 40,000 cars each day pass by the old Pritchett Ford building on Slappey and Heritage House on Oglethorpe. If the city has its way, those motorists soon won't have much to see.

Demolition on the former site of Pritchett Ford on South Slappey began this week. Assistant City Manager Wes Smith says this situation could not have worked out better for the city because the bank that now owns the property is paying the demolition costs. "They feel like they can better market the property if the building is gone," said Smith.

It's a very different story on West Oglethorpe at what was once the Heritage House hotel, now owned by Romeo Cumeau of North Carolina. "We've tried to work with the gentleman," said Smith. "We actually put in a stimulus application in an attempt to rehabilitate the property, which was unsuccessful."

On Wednesday, a Dougherty County judge ruled that the building must be demolished within 121 days as a safety risk for the community and for firefighters.

"We have to always assume somebody's inside," said Albany Fire Dept. Chief James Carswell. "We have such a transient population here in Albany. They are constantly occupying vacant buildings and vacant structures."

Narada Kelson is a salesman at Green Light Auto just down the street and will be glad to see the property leveled. "There's a lot of homelessness going on around here so people go in there at different times of day," said Kelson.

According to estimates, it could cost up to one million dollars to actually demolish what used to be the Heritage House. That's because the building is filled with the hazardous material, asbestos. And if the current owner doesn't pay for the demolition, the taxpayers could be the ones left holding the bag.

"That would be the worst case scenario," said Smith. "Either you have to demo the structure under the assumption that every bit of it is hazardous, which could be a very expensive proposition, or clean it and then demo it."

There is no word yet on what course of action the owner of Heritage House plans to take.