Boarded, vacant city-owned Mom's Kitchen is an unsafe building


In this June 2, 2011 file photo, a bicyclist rides past Mom's Kitchen at 1008 NW 5th Ave. in Gainesville.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 5:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 5:08 p.m.

It has been four years since a divided Gainesville City Commission purchased the vacant Mom's Kitchen building along Northwest Fifth Avenue for $165,000.

The building has sat boarded and empty since then.

Now, the city's Building Department has declared the building unsafe, and Fire Department leadership has passed down the word to employees not to enter the building if there is ever a fire call there.

"Please note Moms Kitchen at 1008 NW 5th Avenue has been deemed an unsafe building by the Building Department and is in imminent danger of collapse under fire conditions; this is to be a defensive operation only," Assistant Fire Chief JoAnne Rice said in an email sent Tuesday titled "No interior firefighting."

On Thursday, Rice said Building Department staff had informed her verbally that, "if it were involved in fire conditions, it would be an unsafe building."

In late January, Building Official Thomas Panico inspected the building at the request of Facilities Management Director Gary D. Cothren.

In a Feb. 4 email to Cothren, Panico said that, under the state building code, the building was dangerous and at risk of collapse. He cited a slew of reasons, including "serious termite damage" that left load-bearing exterior walls "unsound and unsafe."

The building's stone front was "deteriorating, with large and extensive cracking and minimal support," Panico continued.

He also noted rotting siding, warped roof rafters, significant termite damage to an interior beam that was now "threatening roof collapse" and an apparent rat infestation.

In an email Thursday, city spokesman Bob Woods said the administration is bringing in an outside company to make another inspection and will then make a recommendation on whether to stabilize or demolish the building.

It was back in February 2009 that the City Commission voted 4-3 to buy the vacant Mom's Kitchen, a restaurant that had been a staple in the Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street neighborhood for about four decades. Then-Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan and Commissioners Scherwin Henry, Craig Lowe and Jeanna Mastrodicasa were in the majority. Commissioners Jack Donovan, Thomas Hawkins and Lauren Poe dissented.

While the .14-acre Mom's Kitchen site sits in the Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street Community Redevelopment Area, it was not and is not a part of the CRA redevelopment plan for that district.

Instead of CRA money, the City Commission used funds that previously had been budgeted to go toward a new fleet maintenance garage for the purchase. General government owns the site, not the CRA.

Back in 2009, commissioners who supported the purchase of Mom's Kitchen said the site could be redeveloped in conjunction with the nearby six-acre site of the Seminary Lane subsidized apartment complex, which closed in May of that year.

At the time the building was bought, dispute over the purchase also focused on the fact that former city commissioner Rodney Long, who was then a county commissioner, represented the owners of Mom's Kitchen before the City Commission and received a commission on the sale.

To date, the talk of redeveloping the Mom's Kitchen and Seminary Lane sites has not produced results.

But the effort continues, said Rosa Williams, director of the Gainesville, Florida Housing Corporation, which owns the Seminary Lane property.

She said the organization continues to work with the Gainesville Housing Authority and the City Manager's Office to try to see through redevelopment of the properties.

Williams said the corporation is looking for a financial partnership to build an affordable housing development of single-family homes on the Seminary Lane site and would like to tie in the Mom's Kitchen property.

"We've been looking for a long time, and I can see some clear road in front of us," Williams said.

In an early-February interview, longtime Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street neighborhood property owner Albert White, co-owner of the White and Jones Commercial Building, said the recent leasing out of the first-floor office space in the CRA building on Northwest Fifth Avenue and the opening of the Sweet Berries restaurant off Northwest 13th Street and Fifth were positive signs of economic activity. But he criticized City Hall for purchasing Mom's Kitchen and then leaving it vacant and boarded for four years.

"It has contributed to the blight that has already stigmatized Fifth Avenue," White said.

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