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Committee recommends Willmar Council declare downtown UMEC building unsafe

A portion of the former Erickson Furniture building in downtown Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — The Community Development Committee will recommend the Willmar City Council declare the UMEC USA building (formerly Erickson Furniture), 309/313 Litchfield Ave. S.W. as unsafe.

The council will consider the recommendation Monday night.

The committee acted Thursday after Bruce Peterson, planning and development director, said neglected maintenance has led to significant deterioration, resulting in safety hazards.

Committee members received a copy of a letter from City Building Official Randy Kardell that stated the structure has been dilapidated to the extent that the council should declare it unsafe and a removal permit should be issued and the structure completely removed within 30 days.

UMEC USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Universal Microelectronics of Taichung, Taiwan, and makes magnetic components, converters, adapters, and power supplies for large customers in the electronics industry.

UMEC USA had a presence in Willmar for 13 years. An office was established in 2000 to serve customers in the United States and Canada.

The office was located at two other sites before moving to the former downtown furniture store in 2007. On April 19, 2007, the city issued a building permit to UMEC USA for remodeling and restoring the building for an office use.

In January 2012, the city issued a building permit to UMEC to remove the south and westerly portion of the building.

However, the south side of the building where the demolition occurred has not been repaired to resist weather elements, said Kardell. Interior drywall is exposed and there are several wall penetrations to the interior.

A local source says UMEC USA moved out of the building over the last Labor Day weekend. A letter written by Kardell to UMEC USA indicates the company now has offices in Las Vegas, Nev. The building is sitting vacant and is for sale.

Kardell said another area of concern is the rear loading dock. Kardell said a basement is located under the loading dock, with a parking surface over the top. He said the basement has several concrete roof supporting beams that have deteriorated to the extent that a major structural collapse could occur and nothing has been done to correct the problem.

The only action taken was to place signs to prevent vehicle traffic. But the signs and barriers have been removed and not replaced, Kardell said.

“This area constitutes a major structural concern that will classify the structure as an unsafe building,’’ Kardell wrote.

He also wrote that exterior conditions also classify the structure as unsafe due to dilapidation and lack of maintenance.

Kardell ordered UMEC USA to properly repair the exterior and abate the structural deficiencies by Jan. 20, but no repairs have been made.

Peterson said state law authorizes the city to declare the building unsafe. If the property owner doesn’t comply, the city can tear it down. But that may mean the city “eats’’ the demolition cost, which could be $100,000 or more.

During discussion, committee member Tim Johnson asked if the city has other remedies besides the easy remedy of assessing the property. He said nobody is lining up to buy it and he said the first thing a buyer would do is ask the city to forgive the demolition cost.

Peterson said the only remedy is a lien unless the city could talk UMEC into giving the property to the city.

“Then it would be worth the city’s while to invest that money because we could turn around and get some money for a bare site because I know there’s some people interested in doing something on that site. But they don’t want to deal with the building and they don’t want to pay what the building’s on the market for if they have to deal with all the demolition costs,’’ Peterson said. “They would not keep the building. It would be new development.’’

Peterson said he spoke with someone Thursday afternoon who mentioned that there was some planning underway for a project for that site.

Johnson said the city is aware of the dangerous condition.

“I don’t think we should delay on moving forward,’’ he said. “Otherwise, somebody backs a truck over that basement area and goes through and gets some serious injuries. We’ll be the deep pockets that they’ll be looking at.’’

Committee member Jim Dokken said Third Street Southwest is an entryway to the city. “And we’ve John’s sitting there and now we’ve got this building. So it’s important that we spiff that gateway up, take care of it,’’ he said.

Committee member Bruce DeBlieck said Johnson was correct.

“At least go on record and declare it an unsafe building and move forward from there,’’ DeBlieck said.

In other business Monday night the council will receive the annual State of the City address from Mayor Frank Yanish.

Among other agenda items, the council will receive reports from the Finance Committee, Public Works/Safety Committee and Labor Relations Committee; and will receive public comments during the open forum.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150