City pursues legal action against Olde Towne Apartments

Seeking to demolish eight vacant structures and force owner to repair four others

The city of Springfield is seeking court orders to take possession of eight vacant, dilapidated apartment buildings so that they can be demolished.

The structures are part of the 23-building Olde Towne apartment complex, located at the corner of Jefferson Street and Bruns Lane.  City officials are also seeking to have the owner rehabilitate four occupied buildings on the site.

click to enlarge City pursues legal action against Olde Towne Apartments
The city of Springfield is seeking court orders to take possession of eight vacant buildings in the Olde Towne apartment complex and has allocated $600,000 in this year’s budget for demolition. The city also wants the owner to renovate four of the occupied buildings on the site.
The complex is owned by two New York investors who city officials say have told them they lack the money to make the necessary changes. The current owners purchased the property at auction in November 2020 and paid $5,250,000 for the 218-unit property, according to Sangamon County tax records.

“There are eight buildings that have been ‘condemned,’ but they are all vacant already,” said Kateah McMasters, senior assistant corporation counsel. “We did not vacate those. They've been vacant for at least two, if not three years – maybe even longer.”

She said the city is midway through the condemnation process for five of the buildings and has just begun the legal process for the other three.

“A lot of those vacant buildings either don't have secure floors or there's other structural issues,” Ethan Posey, director of community relations, said. “There are broken windows, there's mold. And from a public safety perspective, when you have vacant buildings that are open like that, (homeless people) – especially when it gets cold – break into those buildings and start a fire for warmth. And that's something that could either kill them or start a fire that could burn down the whole complex. So demolishing those buildings is really more for the safety of the people who live in buildings that are currently occupied there.”

The city administration has set aside $600,000 in its proposed budget to raze the structures.

McMasters said there are less-serious building code violations in four occupied buildings in the complex. She declined to identify the nature of violations.

“The problems are not immediate dangers,” she said. “We just don't want to cause any kind of unnecessary panic because these things can sometimes spread and get blown out of proportion,” she said.

City officials say there are 47 apartments in the occupied buildings in which they are seeking repairs.

click to enlarge City pursues legal action against Olde Towne Apartments
The city wants the owners to repair four of the occupied buildings due to "heightened safety concerns" but said they are not ready to close down those buildings.

“Structurally, those buildings are sound that everyone lives in,” Fire Marshal Todd Taylor said. “And they passed everything they needed to for fire safety inspection. … There are still open issues, but the fire alarm systems have been restored and are in working condition.”

City staff is working with the building’s project management company in hopes of resolving the issues.

“Any given building probably has at least a couple violations, but they are not to the extent that we are ready to close down those buildings, by any stretch of the imagination,” McMasters said. … “There are four additional buildings that do have some heightened safety concerns that we are contemplating shutting down, but we are not there yet because we are trying to resolve those issues.”

Posey said the city does not want to see anyone lose their home.

“If we're not able to reach a resolution here, we're making sure that people don't just end up out on the street,” he said. “We're finding appropriate, alternate housing for them that's also price comfortable.”

Flyers were posted around the complex informing tenants that caseworkers from Fifth Street Renaissance would be on hand Jan. 10 “to work to relocate those affected by the building condemnation.” After some tenants took to social media to ask questions and express concerns, Penny Powell, executive director of Fifth Street Renaissance, posted a statement in response that read in part:

“As a neutral party and a social service organization (that) operates multiple programs serving the needs of those experiencing homelessness or near homelessness, our only goal is to ensure that no one becomes unhoused. We are not forcing anyone to participate, encouraging anyone to move or stop paying their rent. We are only informing tenants of available assistance and assessing for program eligibility if requested.”

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].

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