The Finance Committee–forced by a resident’s objections to review its decision to demolish a city-owned office building–voted again for the demolition while refuting new objections from Mr. Kevin Forsyth.
More than a dozen people attended the two-hour meeting, whose published agenda was scuttled in part to allow engineering presentations about a Hollywood Boulevard foot-bridge planned across U.S. 280 between Homewood and Mountain Brook. Most of the emotion, however, was spent on the case of the four-story office building at 90 Bagby Drive, which the city bought with four other parcels in 2004 for $1.8 million, then recently voted to demolish. Mr. Forsyth and city officials have exchanged barbs over the decision and the city’s plans to lease the ground to Brown-Mackie College for overflow parking at $550/month. The council in July agreed reluctantly to reconsider the decision, but ultimately didn’t commute the building’s death sentence.
Committee members present: Britt Thames, Walter Jones, committee chairman, Peter Wright, Jenifer Champ Wallis.
Also attending were Mayor Scott McBrayer, and council members Richard Laws, Michael Hallman and Heather Reid.
Committee members absent: Vance Moody.
Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, city staff Jim Wyatt and Vanessa McGrath, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, and mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff.
Audience attendance: 15 — including former Council President Ginger Busby, State Rep. Paul DeMarco, and Mountain Brook city councilman Jesse Vogtle.
All votes were unanimous.
Scheduled items postponed to allow time for the Bagby Drive and Hollywood Blvd. presentations: The committee voted to carry over the proposed Broadway Park lot purchase; consideration of hearing pitches from commercial property recruiters, and; construction of sidewalks on Columbiana Road/Sterrett Avenue.
Hollywood Blvd Pedestrian Bridge presentation: Mr. Jesse Vogtle, Mountain Brook city council member, encouraged the committee to consider the pedestrian bridge, which would parallel the vehicle bridge and ultimately connect to a running trail being planned around the Birmingham Zoo. The trail was already funded through a $2 million grant. State Rep. DeMarco also spoke in favor of the bridge, along with sales presentations from four architecture/engineering firms: Gresham, Smith and Partners, 2) MBA Engineers, 3) Goodwyn Mills Cawood partnering with Tucker-Jones Engineers; and 4) Gonzales-Strength and Associates. Each firm had 10 minutes to present, showing examples of similar bridges, aesthetic considerations and cost estimates from $600,000 to more than $1 million. Homewood is working on a grant proposal that would cover 80% of construction costs. However, the city must cover the other 20% as well as design and engineering costs. Such a project might take a year to complete.
Approved the demolition of 90 Bagby Drive after answering renewed objections by a resident: Mayor Scott McBrayer–who had asked the council in July to halt the Bagby building demolition after Mr. Forsyth circulated emails against it–opened with a defense of the city council’s integrity and reiterated for those present that he had provided the information needed for them to make informed decisions. McBrayer emphasized that there isn’t any connection between the decision to demolish the building (at a cost of $50,000) and the plans underway to lease the ground for overflow parking to Brown-Mackie College (at $550/month for one year).
The mayor then presented a timeline of actions taken concerning the property leading up to its purchase in December 2004 along with four other parcels and buildings in the aging office park off West Valley Avenue.
2002 – The building at 90 Bagby Drive was inspected by Tucker-Jones Engineering and found to be structurally deficient and too costly to repair.
2004– The properties were purchased.
2008 – The city’s Fleet Maintenance Department moved to Bagby Drive.
2011 – In May, the city received an inquiry about buying the building and in June it was recommended that the city demolish the building.
2013 – Bids were taken for demolition after Brown-Mackie College asked to use the ground for additional parking.
Former council president outlines building history: Ginger Busby, the council president at the time of the purchase, explained that the city was in desperate need of facilities upgrades and began a search for available property, beginning with a failed attempt to purchase the Palisades Shopping Center (in Birmingham). When that was denied, she said, the Bagby Drive properties were considered a reasonable alternative. The building at 90 Bagby Drive was included in negotiations with owner Regions Bank, but because of its condition, the city initially declined the purchase. Regions, however, eventually bundled the building into the deal with the $1.8 million price tag–(leading to Mayor McBrayer’s account that the building had been “donated.”) Ms. Busby said the city decided to take the building.
Mr. Forsyth responds: Kevin Forsyth presented information he had gathered about the property after he said the mayor’s office had delayed getting councilman Michael Hallman information he had requested. Mr. Forsyth spent considerable time getting deeds, purchase agreements and other documents related to the sale, which had been characterized as a “donation” by several council members. Yet, when he asked specifically about this, the mayor, Ms. Busby and city attorney had all assured him that the building was included in the total purchase price of $1.8 million, he said.
Mr. Forsyth presented a Jefferson County tax department document showing the building valued at $2.7 million, which Mr. Kendrick, the city attorney, dismissed as irrelevant if the city maintained ownership, as municipalities don’t pay taxes on property they own. It was mentioned that Regions had estimated it would take $3.5 million to refurbish the building for office space, and that figure would be substantially higher now.
Alabama law and municipal land purchases: Mr. Forsyth said the city by law needed to have a “statement of use” for the building, and there was none for the Bagby property. Mr. Kendrick responded that the city must have a statement of use to purchase property, but could then do whatever it pleased with it. He said the statement of use for the building at the time of its purchase included the possibility of demolition. He vehemently stated that the city is “1000% within its rights” to demolish the building.
No respect: Mr. Forsyth said he was concerned that the council didn’t seem interested in the information he had gathered, and considered it irrelevant. Mr. Jones, in response, said he didn’t appreciate harsh remarks that Mr. Forsyth made previously and Mr. Forsyth said he didn’t appreciate the harsh remarks directed at him either. Nevertheless, Mr. Forsyth said he was satisfied with tonight’s opportunity to air his views.
Improving the Bagby area: Bill Smith, a Hollywood resident and property owner who is in the process of buying property on Bagby Drive, was allowed to speak. He urged the council to invest in landscaping for the Bagby Drive property after the demolition, and provided an $8,000 estimate by a landscaping company.
Following the presentation, a motion was made and passed to support the previous decision to demolish the building.
Three other small items were approved unanimously concerning repair of an ice machine, reimbursement of expenses and fleet maintenance.
The meeting was adjourned at 9 p.m.