BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison officials walked through the now-vacated Humphrey building in downtown Fort Madison last week to make sure that the building was empty.
Then they changed the locks and now have access to start making repairs to the building to shore it up, market the building to potential developers or tear it down, but city Building Director Doug Krogmeier cautioned the process could be slow.
“We went in last Tuesday and walked the entire building to make sure there’s nobody in the building and then changed all the locks and tagged it unsafe,” Krogmeier said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“For the time being it will be vacant and basically under our control so we can get contractors in there to shore up the east end and know that nobody is in there safety wise.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker asked Krogmeier what the next steps are for the building.
Krogmeier said if the city shores up the building there would be an opportunity to open it up and relinquish control, but he said the city’s attorney will have to have a role in that.
He said the city doesn’t own the building. According to Iowa code it would have to sit vacant for six months before court proceedings could begin.
Councilwoman Donna Amandus asked if the city put the money into repairing the building could it recoup those costs
Krogmeier said the city could put a lien on the building, but probably wouldn’t see the money repaid.
Councilman Rusty Andrews said taking possession of the building probably isn’t in the city’s best interest.
Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said the city should facilitate getting the building into the hands of a developer.
“There has been some activity. One of the family members has helped with that and there is diligence being done. They have reached out to Doug in the past few days.”
Mohrfeld said there is a sense of urgency on the project, because no one is sure how much damage a harsh winter could do to the building.
Krogmeier said he doesn’t see many options for the city to take significant action, but is looking for precedents from the city’s attorneys on how to move forward.
Bowker said her concern is that repairing would be a substantial cost to the city. Even if they have possession of it and can’t find a developer, the city would either have to spend additional money to demolish it or fix it up and sell it.
Mohrfeld said the city should stick with the current timeline and hold out hope for interest from a developer. The mayor didn’t mention anyone by name, but representatives with Barker Financial out of Iowa City, the same company that completed the renovations of the Cattermole Library, Old Lee County Bank and has possession of the former Sears Building and other properties in downtown Fort Madison, has toured the building recently.
Barker CFO Kyle Galloway said the building has challenges, but said it offers one of the best views of any property in Iowa.
Bowker said she would like to have an update at each council meeting going forward on the city’s progress with the building.
“I feel like the public and the council deserve nothing less,” she said.