The partial collapse of a wall of a downtown building Thursday has displaced tenants, threatened neighboring business and called on the owner and city officials to decide what to do to make the area safe again.
The Flandreau City Council has declared the building at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and Wind Street a nuisance. That means the building owner Jim Zandt of Sioux Falls has seven days to come up with a way to make sure the property is safe for the public and neighboring businesses. He told council members that he wants to repair the building.
One block of Wind Street on the west side of the building will remain closed to traffic. People may walk on the west side of the street only and can enter Fat Boys Bar through the southern door.
In the meantime, owners of the Flandreau Bakery and Fat Boys Bar have been allowed to reopen at their own risk. The businesses were shut down at 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, a few hours after stone blocks on the back wall of the corner building started falling off. A large crack also is visible on the southwest side of the building.
The council, at a special meeting Friday, also issued a public admonishment that says that anyone entering the nearby businesses assume full risk of injury to themselves or their property if the building should collapse. Officials have said there is no way to know which direction the building would fall in a collapse and have brought up the collapse of the Copper Lounge in 2016 in Sioux Falls as an example of the severity of the issue. One man died and a woman was rescued from the rubble of the building at the corner of Tenth Street and Phillips Avenue.
Paul Lewis, former city attorney who was filling in for the current attorney, named some of the families who aren’t able to enter the building and said, “A lot of other people who have been grievously inconvenienced, that’s on Mr. Zandt’s head.”
Families who live in the apartments in the building asked council members if they could enter for even a few hours to get their belongings out. They are staying at the Royal River Casino for now and have none of their personal items. There are four families in the Zandt building and four over the bakery that have been displaced.
Fire Chief Jud Krull said he would not send anyone into the Zandt building because the risk is too great. He has five children and a wife to go home to and said no one should risk their life for the building.
He disapproved of a decision to send a firefighter in to rescue some birds because it put the value of a human life over the value of a pet.
Firefighters took shifts to monitor the building for nearly 24 hours after the initial blocks fell.
“My recommendation is the city takes it over and tears it down,” he said. “I’m telling you, don’t drag this out.”
The building has been inspected for at least 18 years by the fire department, and when there are issues that would have closed it down, Zandt has done enough maintenance to keep it minimally meeting city code.
Some council members had harsh words for Zandt at the meeting.
“This has been a problem waiting to happen for quite some time,” said council member Jason Unger. When the city would try and do something about the building, Zandt would do just enough to fix it up, Unger said.
Unger said the decaying building puts its neighbors, Fat Boys and the Flandreau Bakery, in peril.
Bakery co-owner Don Duncan said not being able to work from his building would put his business at risk of closing because he wouldn’t be able to serve his wholesale customers, roughly 50 percent of his sales.
“It’s going to affect us quite a bit. It would affect whether we’ll ever open again,” he said in an interview before the meeting. “If we lose all of that it might be a good time for us to retire.”
Unger told Zandt that scenario is a shame. “I hope you understand how serious this is,” Unger said. “This is an iconic business in our community. We are risking the livelihood and the character of the community essentially because of your negligence.”
Unger said the area is the busiest spot for commerce in the community. “It could not have been a worse situation,” he said. “I don’t think it’s acceptable to say, ‘I’m going to come up with a plan and see how we can rebuild it.’”
The council discussed but chose not to declare the building an emergency, which would have meant that the businesses around it would have had to stay closed. The alternative was to issue the admonishment.
“I love what I’m hearing,” Duncan said. “We’re going to get in there and go back to work. We’ve got people to take care of.”
Kyle Haug, who owns Wind Street Liquor Store south of Fat Boys, said he is interested in buying and renovating the building and would like the chance to have an expert look to see if that can be done. He has renovated his building, making space for his liquor store, a restaurant, other potential businesses and apartments on the second story.
He said he has a passion for historic buildings. “It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “We just need a little bit of time.”
Council member Brad Bjerke said the building needs to be shored up quickly to eliminate the risk of collapse. He and council members in attendance said they were in favor of declaring the building a nuisance and voted unanimously in favor of it. Mayor Mark Bonrud and council member Don Whitman were absent.
Dan Sutton, council president and a realtor, said the loss of the building would mean a loss for downtown.
“We aren’t losing businesses, but we are losing a possible business space and a living space for an already tight rental market,” he said. The ground floor of the building is home to a laundromat.
Bjerke also said he would hate to see another vacant lot downtown. Most recently, in the summer of 2017, the Flandreau Meat Locker burned, leaving behind what is now a grassy lot, although that business is being rebuilt on South Veterans Street.
The condition of the building and what the city could do about it became more serious when Jeff Pederson was hired as the new city administrator last May, Sutton said.
Recently, the city sent a letter to Zandt requiring him to have a structural engineer look at the property and provided an approved list of engineers. The engineer said there were some improvements that needed to be made, including tuck pointing on the west side, Sutton said.
“They public needs to know that the city did contact Mr. Zandt,” he said.
Pederson said he got the report back from the engineer Feb. 15, one month before the blocks started falling. A visual analysis recommended that stabilization work be done, the report said.
“The report did not identify the need for an evacuation,” Pederson said. People had also become concerned about a crack above the south window that had appeared.
“Clearly that building has suffered from lack of maintenance,” Pederson said. “Quite possibly, the freeze-thaw cycle over the last few days contributed to this.”
Before the council meeting in which Zandt said he would like to fix the building, he told Pederson that he was considering demolishing it.
“The condition that building is in, it would appear it (repairing the building) would be a very expensive undertaking,” Pederson said.