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Commissioners, concerned citizens discuss dilapidated buildings downtown

By Everett Brazil, III

The Newkirk Herald Journal

NEWKIRK — Dilapidated buildings in Downtown Newkirk have long been a heated topic in the community, especially with the city commission, which has been concerned about the safety of the structures. City commissioners met for their regular meeting 6 p.m. Feb. 14, and addressed concerns of both city leaders and Newkirk citizens, pledging to put a plan in place in the coming weeks.

The first building discussed is owned by Austin Gregory, who met with the commission last summer concerning a large bulge on the front of the façade. Gregory addressed the problem with the commission, and is in the process of slowly pulling the façade back into place with a combination of pulleys and chains. Fire Chief Adam Longcrier has been monitoring the progress, saying it is working. Gregory was not at the meeting, but City Manager Ryan Smykil provided an update. Smykil indicated the façade has been pulled in about 11 in.

“He still goes in and makes regular checks, and brings in the tension,” Smykil said. “As he continues to pull the building in, he’s not seeing any issues, and everything is going well.”

The second building discussed is the Cory Building, on the north end of the 100 block of North Main Street, a structure that was heavily damaged by the May 2019 tornado. The building was previously owned by Kimberly Coury-Swopes, who operated the Stranz & Tanz salon, but is now selling the property to Ken and Dawn Brakey, who spoke at the meeting.

Aerial photographs taken by Firefighter Richard Hinthorn indicated severe roof damage, including loose sheet metal that posed a threat to the public.

“There is still electricity hooked up at the building. If we can get it cut at the pole, we’ll get a lift in there and boom it up,” Ken said.

Newkirk Electric Director Joe Huffman said a lift truck could be used to address the sheet metal problem. Once the Brakey’s have ownership of the building, they plan to remove the top half of the back end, and have it boarded before the renovations begin, with the ultimate goal of opening a commercial business inside.

“We will get started as soon as we take the title,” Dawn said. “We will work the whole spring break on that.”

Longcrier is relieved at the progress, as the city would have taken a different approach.

“A notice was sent to the owner that they have 10 days to take care of the building, or the city would put a lien on it, but if the Brakeys have a plan of fixing it, I am willing to let them do the work,” Longcrier said. “We are not going to do the work they are going to do to save it, we’re going to gut it.”

Both buildings have previously been the subject of a federal grant applied for by Newkirk Main Street (NMS). The application failed last fall, but NMS Director Alyssa McCleery is reapplying for the grant. A total of 14 projects, including 12 buildings, are being addressed by NMS, she said.

“In the federal grant application, we have included seven roofs,” she said. “Others will be added as well.”

Longcrier indicated that most Main Street buildings south of Seventh Street are largely fine, it’s the buildings north of Seventh Street that are damaged, especially the east side.

“There are some rotten roofs on the east side of North Main, although a lot were better than I thought,” he said. “There are some problem areas, and the majority are north of Seventh Street.”

According to the Newkirk ordinances, buildings must be inspected at least once a year and be brought to 2018 fire codes, adopted by the state. Many buildings have not been inspected in years, and a new plan was put in place to begin those inspections, as well as addressing structural issues.

“We’re going to make a concerted effort at getting these buildings fixed,” said Mayor Dereck Cassady.

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