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Burned: Did City Neglect Building?



A vacant West Broad Street building downtown that burned March 11 was a known crack house with a dangerous reputation, neighboring business owners say.

John Morand, who co-founded Sound of Music Recording Studio, saw his business heavily damaged by water used to battle the fire.

"I'm definitely pretty pissed off at the city and their whole system of giving people fines for having [flaking] paint on their garage but not doing anything about something like this," Morand says of the vacant building. "This problem wasn't dealt with a long time ago."

Morand saw the fire erupt at 323 W. Broad St. and fought it himself while waiting for firefighters to arrive. He says he's called the city countless times over the years to report what he perceives as code violations and illegal activity there. The building was "a known place for people to hang out and smoke crack," he says.

Cindy Neschwander, president of the board of 1708 Gallery, which is located nearby, concurs that the front door wasn't boarded up, and she often saw stragglers wandering in and out of the building.

Ashland-based Bayou Properties LLC, which owns the building, declined to comment on the fire or the alleged city code violations.

The city considered it blighted property, city spokesman Linwood Norman confirmed.

"The property was on the vacant building registry that the city has put into place," Norman says. "There had been inspection activity and a stop-work order had been issued earlier in February for mechanical and electrical work that there was no permit for."

That was the least of the building's troubles, according to Morand.

"It hasn't had a front door on it in months," Morand says. "[The city] didn't do anything — other than put a little pink sticker up on the building. It's exactly one block from the main police station. It's amazing this hasn't happened sooner."

The fire, which started about noon Sunday, destroyed the building and also damaged the Sound of Music Recording Studio. Initial reports, however, are that much of the studio equipment escaped serious damage. 1708 Gallery was also shuttered by the fire.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, and there is no estimate yet of the cost of damages to any of the buildings affected, Assistant Fire Marshall Lt. Keith Vida says.

"I know it's going to be pretty extensive," Vida says. "Until we get the engineer there and make sure it's stable, we're not even going to be able to get the investigators inside." S

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