Macon-Bibb meets deadline to tear down 100th house

Houston Avenue demolition comes at end of fiscal year

jgaines@macon.comJune 30, 2014 

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert took the first whacks Monday morning at an abandoned house at 2487 Houston Ave., after getting a quick primer on how to operate a trackhoe.

He hailed the demolition as a milestone in attempting to clear Macon of blighted properties. It was the 100th dilapidated structure torn down this fiscal year.

“We set a goal several years ago of trying to do 100 houses a year,” Reichert said Monday, the last day of the fiscal year.

That target had been reached once before, but officials “fell short” for several years, he said. Now the demolition schedule is back on track, said Reichert, who thanked elected officials for allocating the needed money.

“This is not a cheap proposition to accomplish,” he said. Legal costs, environmental testing and cleanup, and the demolition itself can cost $15,000 to $30,000 per house, Reichert said.

Eleven months ago, the Macon City Council voted to roughly double the annual amount devoted to house demolition, making $530,500 available for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Council members did so in response to learning that only about half of the expected 100 houses had been torn down in the previous fiscal year, though not all of the previously available money had been spent in that time.The new fiscal year’s budget puts the allocation for demolition back around $250,000, but Reichert said he’s talking with Richard Powell -- in charge of the tear-down program -- about upping the goal to 125 houses.

One lane of Houston Avenue was briefly shut for Monday’s demolition event, attended by Macon-Bibb department heads, media and a few onlookers from the neighborhood.

A Public Works crew, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies stood ready to handle the work. A firefighter hosed the house to keep down the dust as deputies directed traffic.

Elliott Flewellen, owner of the Houston Grocery Store next door, recorded the demolition on his phone. He was glad to see Reichert there in person, getting his hands dirty, he said.

“For him to step out himself into this area means a lot to me and means a lot to the community,” Flewellen said.

The empty house had long been an eyesore, but there are many more in the area, he said. Tearing this one down may spur nearby property owners to clean theirs up as well, said Flewellen, who moved to Macon from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a year and a half ago.

During his time in Macon, he’s seen many opportunities for local improvements, and tearing down empty houses may build momentum for real changes, he said.

Reichert took tentative swipes at the house with the trackhoe bucket, inching the machine forward. Demolition went faster with the regular operator back in the seat, tearing it down rapidly while avoiding a big overhanging tree limb.

The house was within Commissioner Virgil Watkins’ district, but he had a prior commitment and could not be there Monday. Commissioner Larry Schlesinger’s district begins just across Houston Avenue, and he attended Monday’s event.

Schlesinger praised Reichert for meeting the 100-house goal, which meant tearing down a house every three or four days on average.

“I think for a city with the blight problem we have, that’s a pretty good clip,” Schlesinger said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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