City, Grafft spar over building

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Friday, October 5, 2007
— The city has condemned the Jeffris Theater because of safety concerns, but the owner said the condemnation is just a continuing pattern of harassment aimed at him by the city.

Jim Grafft owns the brick building at 319 W. Milwaukee St. and is tearing it down. It is connected to the former Monterey Hotel and abuts the Jeffris Flats to the back, which is owned by the YWCA and used for transitional housing for women.

On Thursday, the city condemned the partially demolished theater after an engineer termed it unsafe. Officials said they fear the walls could collapse.

Officials ordered Grafft to:

-- Fence the property and hire security guards

-- Brace the remaining portions of the building

-- Build temporary roof structures over adjacent sidewalks to ensure building materials do not fall on pedestrians

-- Complete the demolition of the building within 30 days

In December, the city issued Grafft an order to correct because of falling brick.

Grafft said he had always planned to tear down the building.

He took out a demolition permit Aug. 21 and was to have the site cleared by Sept. 26.

Jay Winzenz, assistant administrative services director for the city, on Thursday pointed to gaping holes in the structure’s walls. He called the building an attractive nuisance.

“There’s no security here,” Winzenz said. “People are living here. With kids.”

He wasn’t aware of any specific incidents of close calls but said he has seen kids playing outside the Jeffris Flats just feet from the old theater.

“For the most part, his workers seem to be chiseling one brick out at a time and stacking that on pallets,” Winzenz said.

If Grafft does not respond to the orders, the city could hire security personnel and build a fence at Grafft’s expense, Winzenz said.

“The faster he brings the building down, the more it minimizes his potential costs at the site,” he said.

Grafft this morning said the demolition is difficult and must be done by hand because it impacts five other buildings. The one-month deadline in the August demolition permit was not realistic, he said.

“If I had done what the city had asked—and I really wished I had done this now—the roof would have blown off their building (the Jeffris Flats) next door. And all of their lower units would have flooded out.”

The city’s intervention is frustrating because it has added time to the project and made it more difficult, he said.

Grafft said asbestos has also slowed the project. Thursday, more asbestos was found.

And Thursday was a wasted day because the city called the state Department of Natural Resources and federal safety officials.

Grafft said he will not hire security guards but has put up two fences.

Any demolition site is a hazard, he said.

“Personally, I don’t think you have to have fences for people going into your property,” he said.

Grafft said he and the city are trying to buy two of the same buildings elsewhere in the city, and that is one reason for the harassment.

“We’ll go to court,” he said, noting he already is in court with the city.

“The city doesn’t want me to get anything.”

In 2000, the city condemned the Rock County Jail on Water Street, which Grafft owned.

Winzenz said the current condemnation order has nothing to do with the past.

“Our only interest here is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the (residents),” he said.

Last updated: 9:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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