By DAVID SKOLNICK
There will be more scaffolding added to a downtown building before the current protective support system comes down.
After doing nothing for two years with the metal tower surrounding the building on the corner of Wick Avenue and Commerce Street, Park South Development Co. LLC recently submitted plans to the city to replace its granite exterior. The plans should be approved by the city shortly.
But some city officials and downtown advocates are skeptical about the company’s proposal that came about the same time as an article in The Vindicator about city plans to take legal action against the building’s owners.
“Have they hired a contractor? When would the work start and when would it end?” asked Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, an organization involved in downtown landscaping and planting flowers.
“For two years, we’ve done nothing but look at scaffolding. The city has to hold them accountable,” Letson said. “For two years, nothing has happened. If they have a plan, the city has to hold them to that plan and require them to move forward.”
Park South put up the scaffolding at the nine-story building that now houses PNC Bank in May 2008 at the city’s insistence after the company finally acknowledged that two large pieces of granite fell from the structure about 40 feet to the sidewalk below three years earlier.
Nothing has fallen since then, but Park South has been in litigation with the Cincinnati Insurance Co., the building’s insurance company, over the replacement of the granite.
Park South had told city officials in October 2009 that the exterior work would be done quickly, but nothing has been done to date.
A city-issued permit allowing the scaffolding to remain expired Jan. 24. City officials said they would deny an extension to Park South and had planned to sue the business for violating city code regarding the scaffolding and unsafe condition of the building.
In late June, The Vindicator left telephone messages for Park South about the issue and published an article June 24 on the city planning to file a civil suit against the company. A day later, Park South submitted a proposal to the city’s building department to replace the granite exterior on the building’s main tower portion.
Brenda Williams, the city’s chief building official, said she expects to approve the designs either later this week or early next week. Park South needs approval for its plans from the city’s design-review committee. Also, the company would need a building permit, something Williams said shouldn’t be a problem.
A new building permit means the company has up to 12 months to make the improvements. That also means more scaffolding would be needed, Williams said.
Even with the new plans, Mayor Jay Williams said the city will still consider taking legal action against Park South for keeping the scaffolding up six months after its permit expired.
“The issuance of plans doesn’t change the fact that we want the problem resolved and the scaffolding removed,” the mayor said. “I hope this is not a plan to extend the time with the scaffolding. If they move promptly, then it would be OK to have scaffolding. More scaffolding would mean they’re doing work.”
David Rizzuto, director of operations and finance for Pan Brothers, Park South’s parent company, said Tuesday: “We’re hoping to do what we have to do and get it done as quickly as possible.”
When asked about the cost and the time frame, Rizzuto said he didn’t have an answer. The company will continue its legal action against the insurance company while replacing the granite, he said.
Park South wants the insurance company to pay $3 million to replace all the granite, which the company says wasn’t installed correctly. Also, Park South says the current granite isn’t made anymore, and all of it needs to be replaced with the cost covered by the insurance company.
In a January court filing, Park South’s attorney said the company would settle the lawsuit for $1.8 million.
Both companies say it was a combination of strong winds, hidden decay, defective material and/or a defective method of installing the granite that contributed to the two panels’ falling.
Park South wants Cincinnati also to pay for the scaffolding. That expense is close to $70,000 and increasing by $76 a day.
Cincinnati is willing to pay about $15,000 to replace the two pieces of granite, and nothing for the scaffolding.
A magistrate ruled Sept. 1, 2009, in favor of the insurance company. But Judge Maureen Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court overruled the magistrate’s decision. In her Sept. 23, 2009, decision, she said the insurance policy language, written by Cincinnati Insurance, was too vague and therefore should favor Park South.
The two sides failed to come to an agreement at a January mediation. Another mediation session is scheduled for Aug. 30. If that also fails, a jury trial is set for Nov. 16.
Some locals involved in downtown question whether the city should grant a one-year permit to Park South based on the company’s inaction the past two years. A year ago, Park South officials said the work would be done even with the pending lawsuit.
“I’m skeptical they’ll do the job when they’ve done nothing for two years,” said Richard Mills, president of the Ohio One Corp., which owns five downtown buildings. “Shame on all of them for taking this long.”
While a standard building permit allows the property owner 12 months to finish the work, the city has the option of issuing conditional permits.
But Brenda Williams said that is done in “extraordinary circumstances” and that’s not the case with this building — even though it’s had scaffolding in front of it for more than two years.
Also, she received the designs nearly a month ago but won’t act on them until the end of this week or early next week.
“Unless there are extraordinary conditions, I review projects in the order I receive them,” she said. “Yes, they have a track record of not repairing the problem. But extraordinary conditions would be if the building is in immediate need of repair because it poses an imminent danger. The public’s in no danger at this point, and I’m incredibly backlogged with projects.”
Mills argued that eliminating the scaffolding should be a top priority for the city.
“The scaffolding is disgusting, embarrassing and pitiful,” he said. “I wonder why it took two years to get this going.”