Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

May 6, 2013

Cleanup complicates pawn shop issue

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat

emann@pvdemocrat.com — Finding a resolution to the stalemate over what to do about Pauls Valley’s former Honest Bus Pawn Shop seems set to remain at a stall as neither the city nor the current owner are eager to spend money to fix the downtown spot up.

However, taking issue with statements about a lack of cooperation made at a March city council meeting was Randy Harris, the current owner of the burned out building, who noted that on numerous occasions he was more than willing to work something out with the city and has made attempts at regular contact.

His main complaint other than not being notified there was a meeting where he would have a chance to speak was how he did not believe the city was interested at all in taking on the property and believes they should come out and say it instead of pointing the finger at him.

“I don’t believe they have a goal to expedite this in a timely manner,” said Harris, who lives in Norman and purchased the property in 2010 from the previous owner Joan Hunter with a goal to bring a new business there. “If they wanted it, they’d do something about it.”

Harris said the main reason he decided to give up on trying to do a restoration job himself was a discovery by the group he was with that the costs of trying to get the property up to code would far exceed what they could get in return once they were ready to sell it.

It was also at that point that he decided he was no longer going to pay taxes on the property as well as pay off a lien of $20,000 to cover the city’s previous cleanup and reinforcement of the front of the building after the shop burned about four years ago.

Harris also believes the city is not going after the property since it could very well have to be cleared out completely, leaving only an empty lot.

He does not believe the walls remaining are strong enough to stand and expressed concern that the problems would only increase if it collapses and causes injury to people or damage to nearby businesses.

“There’s nothing more I’m going to do… I told them for two years I’m not doing anything with it,” said Harris. “Those walls could fall down tomorrow, that’s a public hazard.”

Both Harris and City Manager James Frizell noted how they hope an interested party comes in to buy the property before it would have to go to a sheriff’s sale, but noted the lien isn’t going to encourage anyone to pounce.

In the end, Frizell said the lien could become negotiable if someone comes in to buy it with a clear plan to clean up the property.

“It’s a difficult situation,” said Harris, who asks anyone interested to call him about the property. “There’s no upside unless someone has a reason to get it… no easy way. They’d have to spend a lot of money.”

Frizell, who has been in contact with Harris since that meeting, did not say the city was totally opposed to going in and taking charge of the property, but it was not just as simple as them signing a piece of paper and starting work.

Yet, he said if given permission by Harris, he would be willing to follow the city council’s recommendation to examine the property in order to see if it has asbestos first.

“We don’t have a choice because we invested money reinforcing the front,” said Frizell. “That can’t go away.”

This is primarily due to a previous experience when the city obtained the old Alvis Hotel and after spending $80,000 to clean it up, they aren’t eager to just take it and have to go through something like that again.

At this point it is a wait and see, though Frizell wanted it to be clear that while the city is interested in having a clean downtown, by law it is the property owner of every building to maintain the structure and handle any debts attached.

“It’s going to be a long slow process to get it done,” said Frizell, adding how the city may only come in as a last resort if no one buys it before or during a sheriff’s sale.

“It’s really not our responsibility to buy old dilapidated buildings and clean them up... You try to learn from your mistakes, try to learn how to approach it and not let that happen again.”