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Owners of Madison’s Building to Appeal Unsafe Designation

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Owners of Madison’s Building to Appeal Unsafe DesignationPhoto by Walker Evans.
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The owners of the vacant buildings at 72 North High will appear before the Columbus Building Commission on Sept. 16 to appeal an order by the Building and Zoning Services Department deeming the property unsafe to occupy. The order instructs the Tonti Organization, a Columbus-based real estate company, to fix the buildings’ structural deficiencies within 30 days. The order was issued approximately 30 days ago.

Building and Zoning Services Director Scott Messer said this order came in the wake of an engineer’s report which found that while the structure was not an emergency hazard requiring immediate demolition, “It’s still unsafe to occupy so we followed up with an order saying it’s unsafe to occupy.”

Specifically the order says a July 11 inspection of the property found “multiple areas around the entire building indicating deterioration and damage to structural components.”  The structure’s exterior shows “mortar voids, falling concrete patches, severe cracking and dislodged and broken bricks.” Within the buildings, “ceilings are collapsing on multiple floors” and the “fire suppression and fire alarm systems are not active or operational” with pipes and sprinklers broken and no apparent water source. Neither heating nor plumbing systems are functioning and there are “exposed and damaged electrical components throughout the building.”

All of this led Building and Zoning Services to declare the building “unsafe and dangerous to human life.”

If the Building Commission dismisses the owners’ appeal and upholds the order, the Tonti Organization will be required to conduct proper maintenance on the buildings or face court proceedings. Messer does not believe the Tonti Organization can win the appeal, which would indicate the Building Commission does not believe the property is unsafe.

“If you’ve seen the buildings,” said Messer, “I don’t see how that would remotely be possible.”

It is unclear how long the three buildings, which include the old Madison’s department store, have been vacant. In June, Messer told Columbus Underground there was evidence of at least one business tenant occupying the building recently without the knowledge of Building and Zoning Services.

The city’s close interest in the property began in 2012 when an inspection of the property found the buildings to be in bad shape. Some repairs were made but were apparently unable to restore the property to acceptable conditions. The city was forced to fence off several parking meters adjacent to the buildings to protect people from falling bricks.

Messer said the Commission has rarely, if ever, disagreed with an order by Building and Zoning Services deeming a structure to be unsafe. Though his office has been in close contact with the Tonti Organization, Messer said he does not know what the owners hope to do with the buildings in the unlikely event their appeal is successful.

The Tonti Organization declined to comment for this story.

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