"They need to tell and show us how they are going to approach the issues," said Tim Morgan, inspection services director for the city of Cape Girardeau. "Then we can either grant them more time or move forward with condemnation. In most cases we do grant them more time if they have a solid plan."
The building's new owner, Reba Abbott of Scott City, came to city hall about four months ago and met with Morgan and other city officials to express her interest in repairing the building and preserving its historic character.
Abbott commissioned engineer Michael T. Mahaney of Structures, Inc., of St. Louis to conduct the inspection required by the city. In October, Mahaney found that the building's foundation is structurally sound and capable of safely supporting the structure.
When it initiated condemnation proceedings in September 2011, city officials didn't know if the foundation was settling, Morgan said, but something was causing sagging exterior bricks to fall.
"That's why the wooden walkway was originally put up, to keep those bricks from hitting anybody," Morgan said.
The city's original condemnation notice said the three-story building was determined to be 30 percent dilapidated; bricks were shifting and its roof was in need of repairs.
For months, the city and the building's previous owner, Merriwether Investments, operated by John Wyman, disagreed on the underlying reason for the building's problems.
Condemnation proceedings typically take three to six months, but this one has gone on longer, Morgan said. Wyman presented the city with an engineer's report this year stating a leaky storm sewer allowed water to penetrate the building's foundation -- causing it to shift during the past couple of years -- and that building repairs could not be made until the sewer was addressed. The report was based only on visual observations.
City engineers found no evidence supporting this claim during inspections of the storm sewer. Neither did Mahaney during his inspection in October when, for the first time, portions of the sidewalk were removed to probe the area under the building. City crews allowed Structures, Inc., to place a camera in pipe openings, which revealed no collapsed pipes or open pipe joints. City workers cut into the sidewalk and excavated to the bottom of a limestone block of the footing. They found the soil to be stable and there were no storm sewer leaks in the vicinity.
The inspection also revealed the reason for a broken glass window on the building's south side. A short brick wall below it was found to be supported directly on the sidewalk. Frost below the sidewalk during cold weather raises the walk and brick wall, which damaged the window, according to the report.
The report concluded there has been slight settling of the building's southeast corner, about a half-inch to 1 inch, which was the result of long-term compression in the soil and not a result of a deficient storm-sewer system.
The building, which dates to the 1800s, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Cape Girardeau Commercial Historic District. The Sturdivant Bank, the oldest bank in Southeast Missouri, was established there in the 1890s.
Mahaney's inspection recommended repairs in this order:
* Close the sidewalk on the Themis Street side, remove temporary cables at the roof and secure all loose brick and mortar by tuckpointing walls around the perimeter of the roof;
* Remove the temporary wood sidewalk cover;
* Repair the existing rubber membrane roof and temporarily seal the skylight to prevent stormwater infiltration; and
* Remove and replace all windows to replicate the original architecture.
Once repairs are made a final inspection will be conducted by the city based on issues for which the building was condemned.
"If everything is up to par, it comes off the list," Morgan said.
The goal of the condemnation process is to work with the property owner, especially on a highly visible building in the middle of an area the city hopes will be revitalized.
"You don't want to tear it down if you don't have to," Morgan said. "Even though it is costly for the owner, work can be done and it can be put back into service. The building can come to life again."
Abbott did not return calls asking for comments about her plans for the property.
Old Town Cape executive director Marla Mills has yet to speak with Abbott since she took over the property. Mills said rehabbing the building will improve the look of the area and preserve the character of the street.
"This whole process I think has been an educational one for the community," she said. "Just because a building looks bad doesn't mean it can't be saved. There were a lot of assumptions made about the building being unsound and what was causing it and those didn't pan out."
101 N. Main St., Cape Girardeau, MO