Crews from Vickers Demolition were still dismantling what was left in late August after a massive warehouse fire on Laurel in Hamilton. The fire started just before 5 a.m. Thursday, July 25, 2019. The city is still trying to recover the $186,000 demolition cost. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Photo: Nicholas S. Graham
Photo: Nicholas S. Graham

Hamilton working to recover $186K for tearing down warehouse destroyed by fire

The fire at 999 Laurel Ave. started about 4:45 a.m. on July 25 and engulfed the entire warehouse that occupied a full city block. It was so hot, it melted siding on buildings that were located across relatively wide streets. Firefighters who stood between the warehouse and the other buildings with hoses prevented those buildings from burning.

The property had transferred from CTP Funding LLC in Arizona to Coast Blvd Associates LLC of Glendale, Ariz., just two days earlier.

Logan Henry, 18, faces aggravated arson, arson, and breaking and entering, among other charges. He was 17 at the time, but will be tried as an adult.

The same day as the fire, city Health Commissioner Kay Farrar informed the owner, Coast Blvd Associates LLC, the building was in imminent danger of collapse and had to be torn down immediately.

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The city quickly hired Vickers Wrecking and Demolition to level the building for the $186,000 cost, which was higher because the building contained asbestos.

On Nov. 1, the city filed a lawsuit in Butler County Common Pleas Court seeking a judgment requiring Coast Blvd Associates to reimburse the city, along with a request that the property go to a foreclosure sale, with proceeds reimbursing the demolition. The city funded the demolition using its fund for capital improvements, such as purchases of fire engines and repairs to fire stations, as well as other equipment purchases and building repairs.

Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Coast Blvd Associates or its lawyer for comment.

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“We didn’t have a choice” but to tear down the building, said Tom Vanderhorst, Hamilton’s executive director of External Services. “And now we’re trying to recover it.”

“And sort-of the double-edged sword on that is I’ve actually been in contact with the guy who was involved with us before (the sale), and he says, ‘Hey, thanks a lot for tearing my property down. I had it on the market for $250,000, and now that it’s torn down, I got an appraisal’ — and he sent me a copy of the appraisal — it’s now valued at $301,000.”

“I was like, ‘Really?’”.

Vanderhorst said the man told him he wasn’t involved with the property anymore. When Vanderhorst asked why he cared about the property’s value, “He told me it was none of my business,” he said.

If the city wins the court judgment, the building is sold in foreclosure and someone buys it, Hamilton would receive the $186,000 before proceeds would go to the owner. Hamilton wants to keep the property if it doesn’t sell for enough to repay the demolition, taxes, and other assessments.

Under proposed Ohio legislation, “The state is creating a fund, hopefully, that will allow commercial properties to be addressed,” Vanderhorst said.

RELATED: House bill could bring $100M to demolish blighted commercial buildings

Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon in August told this media outlet he’d love to have more ability to tear down such buildings.

“I want to see them gone, I want to see them eradicated,” Dixon said. “I don’t want to drive by acres after acres of buildings that are condemned or falling down.”

Reporter Denise G. Callahan contributed.

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