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Willmar City Council declares UMEC building unsafe

WILLMAR — The owner of the deteriorating UMEC USA building in downtown Willmar has 30 days to correct unsafe conditions or the building will be demolished, the City Council voted this week.

The council on Monday night accepted the recommendation of its Community Development Committee that the council issue an unsafe building declaration and take necessary steps to have the conditions corrected or the building torn down.

UMEC had an office for its electronics business in the former Erickson Furniture building since 2007, but moved to Las Vegas in September. The vacant building has deteriorated over the years to the point where a number of conditions warrant an unsafe building declaration, reported Councilman Rick Fagerlie, chairman of the committee.

Fagerlie said the biggest question was whether the city would be reimbursed if no corrective steps were taken and the city demolishes the building. The options available are to file a lien or place the cost on the real estate taxes as a special assessment.

During discussion, Councilman Denis Anderson asked if declaring the building unsafe would preclude the city from talking to UMEC.

Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, said if UMEC is truly interested in coming to the table and correcting the conditions that warrant the declaration, staff will work with the owner and see that the property is brought up to the proper standards.

“At that point, once they eliminate the safety hazards, the city’s authority in this matter pretty much dissipates and we’re dealing with an empty building that they have for sale,’’ he said.

Peterson said he would contact a UMEC representative in Las Vegas and the representative’s superior in Taiwan, where the company has headquarters.

Anderson said he did not want to see this drag on, referring to the slow restoration progress underway at the former fire-damaged John’s Supper Club also located downtown.

Restoration at John’s has been underway since 2009 after the owner received a building permit. According to Peterson, a permit remains open and in force as long as the owner continues to make progress. If no progress is made for one year, the permit is no longer valid.

Peterson said his intention is to let UMEC know the city is serious about correcting the issues. He said the company has indicated that they might be willing to discuss it and make some improvements.

“I think history would tell us where this takes us. We look at the John’s Supper Club building as a perfect example of a building that’s never gotten completed and quite frankly we have no authority any longer to get it completed,’’ he said.

“I’m still very concerned about the unsafe conditions at this property. But I would not be adverse to try and open up some conversation with this individual and to see how responsive they would be in mitigating some of those safety issues,’’ he said.

Peterson said UMEC was notified by certified letter of the unsafe conditions, but UMEC did not sign for or acknowledge the letter. UMEC responded, however, after the local real estate agent representing UMEC read a Tribune report last week that said the committee was recommending the council take action.

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