Mom’s Kitchen deemed unsafe

A bicyclist rides past Mom’s Kitchen in the historic NW 5th Avenue neighborhood. The city purchased the property in 2009, but the building remains empty, and now it has been deemed unsafe by the city Building Department. (Guardian file photo)

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.

It has been four years since a divided Gainesville City Commission purchased the vacant Mom's Kitchen building along NW 5th 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," said Assistant Fire Chief JoAnne Rice in an email sent last Tuesday titled "No interior firefighting."

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

A copy of any building inspection report and details on its findings had not been made available from city administration as of late last Thursday.

In February 2009, the City Commission voted 4-3 to purchase the property at Mom's Kitchen, a restaurant that had been a staple in the 5th 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.

The .14-acre Mom's Kitchen site sits in the 5th Avenue/Pleasant Street Community Redevelopment Area but is not a part of the CRA redevelopment plan for that district.

Instead of CRA money, the City Commission used monies that previously had been budgeted to go toward a new fleet maintenance garage on 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.

The agenda item for the February 2009 meeting identified both renovation of the Mom's Kitchen building and razing the structure to build something new as options.

To date, redevelopment hopes have not been realized.

Rosa Williams, director of the Gainesville, Florida Housing Corporation, which owns the Seminary Lane property, 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 seeking financial partners to build an affordable housing development of single-family homes on the Seminary Lane site and would like to tie in Mom's Kitchen.

"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 area property owner Albert White, co-owner of the White and Jones Commercial Building, said the recent leasing of the first-floor office space in the CRA building on NW 5th Avenue and the opening of the Sweet Berries restaurant on 13th Street and 5th Avenue 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 5th Avenue," White said.

Christopher Curry is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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