ome Parkville property owners are questioning why city officials did not act sooner declaring a historic downtown structure dangerous. The buildings, at 16 Main Street, created a public safety issue, according to staff comments during a board of aldermen meeting in early April in which officials designated the building “blighted.”
The designation allows the building’s new owner, Brian Mertz, to be eligible for tax incentives in order to make the building safe and to prepare for its future use as an Irish pub and retail business.
While the blight declaration does not affect the current amount of property tax on the building, the designation could free Mertz from additional property taxes on the structure for the next 25 years, according to guidelines outlined in Chapter 353 Tax Abatement as authorized by the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
The tax break is the latest in a series of incentives the city has granted Mertz. He is receiving incentives for his creation of a 350-acre residential, light industrial and retail space near Interstate 435 and Missouri 45 in Parkville.
Mertz said the rear of the property at 16 Main Street was in danger of collapsing in addition to having other issues, such as structural damage, mold, asbestos and desperately needed a new roof. The property address consists of two brick buildings, one a single story on one side and the other a two-story, with a small space in between.
Jason Maki, a spokesman for a citizens’ group that opposes the way the city has handled the massive development at I-435 and Hwy. 45, said that by granting the downtown building blighted designation officials have allowed Mertz to avoid financial risk.
He also objects to the city’s process in which they waived a public hearing on the downtown building due to the building’s condition.
Community Development Director Stephen Lackey told the board during the April 2 meeting that city staff “waived a public hearing…improvements have to be made as soon as possible.” Patricia Jensen, attorney for Mertz, told the board there are “life safety issues…we need to deal with now.” Lackey said plans for the building’s future use “are consistent with the vision of the downtown Parkville plan.” He added that the dining and retail space “will be beneficial in increasing traffic.”
“Mr. Mertz purchased the retail location downtown with plans to convert it into a privately-owned bar as an apparent prestige project,” Maki said in an emailed statement. “Repair work could begin at any time without the use of ‘emergency’ taxpayer guarantees,” Maki said, adding the tax incentives for the downtown project, coupled with $10.5 million in incentives for the large development, raises questions “about the true nature of the relationship between Mr. Mertz and Parkville’s elected officials.”
Cliff Bell, who owns a business next door to the property, said no one had told him the building was dangerous or in eminent danger of collapse. Tom Hutsler, who also owns a downtown business, English Landing Center, said he wonders about the board’s motives.
“I don’t think it’s that dangerous or they (nearby property owners) would have been told,” he said during a telephone interview.
Dean Cull, deputy chief of the South Platte Fire Protection District, said the building had not been declared unsafe for occupancy or the city would have posted “condemned” signs and his department would have been notified.
“They (city officials) probably are just trying to stop it before it gets to that point,” he said.
Numerous businesses have operated in the structure since it was first built during the late 1800s and early 1900s. During the 1930s, one building housed Parkville’s first post office. Later uses included dry goods stores and, most recently, a retail business, “Finders Keepers.” That business closed in January and the owners sold the property to Mertz, said Hutsler, who is also a contractor and remodeled a portion of the building’s front after it was struck by a car a few years ago.
Martha Noland, who is 96 years old and a lifelong area resident, said her mother-in-law told her that one of the buildings was used as a millenary, for women’s hat-making and sales sometime during the late 1800s and early 1900s. She said the hats were embellished with beads, netting, feathers and flowers.