BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON - As winter approaches, eyes are once again turned to the Humphrey building in downtown Fort Madison.
City officials said a motion should be filed in North Lee County Court any day to set a hearing for the city to assume ownership of the building at the corner of 8th Street and Avenue G, free and clear of the Humphrey estate.
The building has been vacant for close to six months after the city received a judicial order that allowed them to vacate the building. Former owner Bryan Humphrey's son Ben had been living in the building prior to that. The late Bryan Humphrey took his own life in February of this year.
City officials were given authority to empty the building in order for safety and to possibly shore up the building. Krogmeier said he wasn't given authority to make repairs.
"It's the cost essentially, and I haven't been given approval to do that," he said.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said he expects Pat O'Connell of Lynch-Dallas LLC out of Cedar Rapids to be filing the motion for the hearing any day.
Mohrfeld confirmed that Krogmeier hasn't been given authority to make any repairs in the building because the city is still following a court order that required Humphrey, or now his estate, to shore up the building.
"No, because part of that is we compelled the owner, and we're not sure what that means at this point, to follow the court order to stabilize the building. None of that has happened. In our plan that we will present to the court we want to stabilize it and make it safe, and then bring it back to a viable property in some fashion," Mohrfeld said.
"When we hit the criteria of the law, we can apply to be on the docket. We're at the mercy of (the court's) schedule. When we get there we will appeal that the building has fallen into abandonment and disrepair and, for the good of the community, we'll ask the court to assign the building over to us free and clear."
Krogmeier said the city has possession but not ownership of the building so the city, at this point, still isn't liable for the building. But if it were to start to crumble due to temperatures or a heavy winter, then the city would be forced to take action.
"Essentially the court gave us possession of the building but not ownership. That allowed us to keep people out of the building, change the locks, make repairs, that sort of thing," Krogmeier said.
The building has sat vacant for the past six months and Krogmeier said they had to have that history before they could go to the courts for an ownership hearing.
He said city officials are keeping a close eye on the building and haven't see any additional movement causing concern.
"It doesn't look like it's moved too much. But I can't see everything," he said. "If I do see something, that road would be closed again."
Krogmeier said it's his understanding that a hearing to acquire ownership could take a couple months. That hearing would need to take place before the city could start agreements to get the property into private hands for development and rehabilitation.
Barker Financial, who has been integral in getting other historical properties refurbished and turned into rental and retail spaces in downtown Fort Madison, has expressed an interest in the building.
Mohrfeld said he isn't overly concerned about additional damage to the building.
"I've been in that building, and there is a portion of that building that is stressed. But, really, 95% of that in there looks great. Five years ago this would have been an easy mitigation."
O'Connell said Monday, the document was ready to go and was expected to be filed on Tuesday.
"We had to wait for the building to be abandoned for six months and we just reached that milestone so we should be free to file now," O'Connell said at Monday's Fort Madison City Council meeting.
He said it usually takes 8 to 10 weeks for the court schedule to find the three hours that is usually set aside for those types of hearings to give any ownership party a chance to appear for the hearing.
"If they don't show up, the court will probably enter an order providing ownership to the city and any other private interest in the building would be extinguished," O'Connell said. "Often they don't because in those situations they've walked away from it. The city can then turn and do whatever it needs to do."
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