TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – A local businessman has long been locked in a battle with the City of Topeka over one of his properties.
The two sides haven’t seen eye to eye on what both consider to be an eyesore. Now, in part four of our series Topeka Eyesores we track down the owners of a dilapidated old school and a bare bones hotel to find out their plans for the properties.
“The city said I wasn’t moving fast enough. I feel like I was bullied,” property owner Josh Maddox told Kansas First News.
The old Van Buren Elementary School is now slated to be torn down, but that’s not how Maddox had hoped it would end. It’s certainly not how this story began.
According to Maddox, a non-profit Christian ministry out of Corpus Christi had hoped to buy the building and open a trade school for women. But he says they ran into dead end, after dead end, after dead end with the city.
“Finally, they said, ‘Josh, we’re not interested in Topeka, Kansas, and frankly, we don’t care if we ever drive back through there,” Maddox said, recounting his conversation.
So, he says he came up with a second solution. He would sell the property and building to a prospective buyer for salvaging. Again, Maddox claims, the city got in the way, telling the man he should stay away from the asbestos ridden building.
“They scared this gentleman so bad that he ran with his tail between his legs,” Maddox claims.
Back at the drawing board, Maddox came up with option three.
“I would pay to have the building tore down, sell the recycled products, try to pay the city back for like the dumpsters for the trash and possibly anything if there was such thing as a profit, put back for a park,” Maddox offered.
But according to him, code enforcement has balked at the offer. Maddox says he’s willing to pay, but he needs the city to meet him less than halfway.
“Let’s cut to the chase…either the taxpayers are going to pay $211,000 or maybe the sum of under $20,000 that could get paid back,” Maddox said matter-of-factly.
In the end, he has only one regret.
“I don’t regret acquiring the property. I regret trying to conduct business in the city of Topeka.”
Meanwhile, the old hotel off of I-70 has been an eyesore for nearly a decade. Nine years ago a fire permanently shuttered the Red Carpet Inn and Suites at 10th and Madison. Code enforcement assessed it for demolition years ago; however, it did not meet standards to proceed with a case. The city says because it’s a concrete structure, it didn’t come anywhere close to cost replacement requirements. New owners eventually purchased the property, gutted the building and replaced windows about three years ago.
But that’s where the trail grows cold. Several times we tried to contact the owners by calling another hotel they appear to own in Dickinson, North Dakota. We left messages that have not been returned. The owner is listed as CPE Topeka Kansas 1031 Exchange out of Dickinson, North Dakota according to the Shawnee County Appraiser’s office.
Despite its skeletal appearance, Vince Frye with downtown Topeka, Inc. says he sees the empty building as an opportunity, not an eyesore.
“It looks to me as an opportunity for somebody to come in and do something significant with it,” Frye told Kansas First News.
Frye notes that a message on the hotel’s marquee has long read that it’s under renovation. But without having any contact with the building’s owners, he doesn’t know if that’s still the case. He believes the building would make a great corporate office or even apartments for those wanting to live downtown.
A couple of other commercial structures also fall under the eyesore category in the Capital City. Code enforcement had gotten the go ahead from the city council to demolish 905 N. Kansas in the historic district. According to the city, it went for bid and a demo contract was awarded. However, at the last minute private investors stepped in with the funds to renovate the building. They contacted the owner and were able to purchase it. The owner is listed as Place Properties, LLC at 1701 SW MacVicar according to the Shawnee County Appraiser’s office.
Another commercial property that was recently approved for demolition is a 4-plex apartment building at 715 SW 12th. It too is in a historic district and has environmental impact concerns. The council voted June 10th to move ahead with its demolition. That property’s owner is listed as ARDL, LLC.
The following is the city of Topeka’s response to the claims by Van Buren Elementary School owner Josh Mattox.
Claim #1 – Mr. Mattox says the city broke down the deal between him and the nonprofit ministry wanting to open a trade school. He alleges that they only had about 600,000 to renovate the property and the city said it would take twice that much. According to him, the ministry was so frustrated that they ended up saying they weren’t interested and didn’t “care if we ever drive back through there.”
City of Topeka: We, the City, did not ever tell Mr. Mattox any amount that it would cost to renovate the structure. The only dollar figures ever mentioned were that the RCN (Replacement Cost New) listed with the County Appraiser’s Office was $1,581,540 and 30% of that required by ordinance to request a demolition for an unsafe structure was $474,462. The City came up with a total of $568,638.91 in repairs needed on the structure to avoid demolition. Development Services has also not ever talked to Mr. Mattox nor done an on-site visit to check the building/property for any new usage of the structure.
Claim #2 – He says he’s tried to come up with a plan for the demolition, but the city felt he wasn’t moving fast enough. He claims he felt like he was bullied after the city took control of the property after the church next door burned.
City of Topeka: Mr. Mattox failed to show up for a couple of hearings, failed to respond to phone calls, and failed to provide a contract for demolition. The judge ordered the property demolished.
Claim #3 – Mr. Mattox claims that the city scared off a second potential buyer interested in the salvage. He says when the man went to check property records, he was told they wouldn’t purchase the property because of the liability associated with the asbestos.
City of Topeka: The City does not have control of the property records located at the County nor whether they could, or would, have said anything in relation to asbestos. A potential buyer would not come to our office to check property records.
Claim #4 – Mr. Mattox says he has offered to go to asbestos school, tear the building down himself with contractor friends, sell the recycled products and try to pay the city back for things like dumpsters used for the debris with any money he makes on the salvage.
City of Topeka: We do not know anything about this claim and have not spoken with Mr. Mattox reference asbestos school.
Claim #5 – He says he would like to see it turned into a city park.
City of Topeka: [We] have not heard this before.
Claim #6 – Mr. Mattox says he’s presented a couple of solutions to your office but has not yet heard back.
City of Topeka: No solutions have been presented to our office.
Claim #7 – In the end, Mr. Mattox claims it will cost the citizens $211,000 to demo with the asbestos if the city pays to have it done. Or, it could cost taxpayers less than $20,000 if he’s allowed to do it and then try to repay the city for the expenses its out.
City of Topeka: All $211,000 will be billed to the property owner in either scenario. We know nothing about the $20,000 he refers to. The cost of demolition is still the responsibility of the property owner.
Claim #8 – What is the city’s plan for this property now that it’s been cleared for demo?
City of Topeka: It’s been ordered demo’d, but the property is still the responsibility of Mr. Mattox. The city is exploring all options to render the property safe, and still hold the owner accountable. Additionally, Mr. Mattox has allowed people inside of the building in an attempt to profit, knowing there is asbestos present. This has been detrimental in how the demo may proceed.