Main Street building collapse rubble awaits asbestos study

The rubble of a vacant commercial building that collapsed in late February at 401 Main St. will not be removed until a study of whether there are hazardous materials at the site is completed, the Pine Bluff city attorney said.

“Building owner Joe Meador is in communication with an asbestos contractor to evaluate the site to determine asbestos levels,” Althea Hadden-Scott said Thursday. “After the evaluation is completed, a rubble-removal schedule can be set.”

Hadden-Scott said Meador bears the financial burden for costs associated with the collapse.

“He has already paid $2,500 for the emergency demolition work on Feb. 21,” Hadden-Scott said. “He is ultimately liable for whatever costs are incurred.”

A call to a number for Joe Meador in Star City seeking comment Thursday was answered by a woman identifying herself as Meador’s wife, who said that her husband was out of town and would not be able to talk for several days.

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said Thursday that her administration introduced an ordinance last year that she said would have strengthened the city’s ability to move against owners of commercial buildings that are not being kept up to code.

“The city council unfortunately voted it down,” Hollingsworth said. “You have to get the property owner’s attention. If you don’t put more meat in the law, then this is what happens. We have to be able to monitor the buildings, and if one is deemed unsafe, then we need to be able to work with building owners to come up with a solution.”

Pine Bluff Fire Chief Shauwn Howell said in February that the collapse of the 11,400-square foot, two-story building’s rear wall into an alley was reported to authorities by telephone at 6:55 p.m. Feb. 20.

Officials from the police department, fire department, street department and inspection and zoning department, Entergy Corp. and the Centerpoint Energy gas company responded to the scene.

“Officials engineered the fall of the Fourth Avenue wall of the building around 11:30 p.m. [Feb. 20] to reduce the risk to Centerpoint Energy workers before they successfully removed concrete and other debris and capped the gas line on both ends of the block,” Howell said the day after the collapse.

“We discussed how the side wall should be brought down to clear the way for the gas line’s capping,” Howell said in February. “The walls of the building — which city building inspector Scott Warren estimated is more than 100 years old— were only about eight inches thick, which created concern for the integrity of the remaining Fourth Avenue side wall.”

Howell believed the advancing age of a number of downtown buildings, most of which are empty, could generate a growing safety risk in the downtown area.

“We regularly walk through to check on them,” he said. “We want to remain aware of any potential problems.”

Ward 3 Alderman Glen Brown has been a proponent of removing derelict buildings in the downtown area of Pine Bluff.

“I have been contemplating the best way to deal with this situation,” Brown said. “We have laws on the books concerning abandoned houses and we need to make sure that we are also enforcing laws on owners of abandoned commercial buildings. We have laws on the books to deal with this; we just need to begin doing something about this problem.”

Brown said that the owners of derelict commercial buildings in the city must be forced to make some hard choices.

“You either need to get a backer to come in and renovate the building or you need to go ahead and tear it down,” Brown said. “I would love to see someone come in and restore the Pines Hotel, but if one can’t be found, we need to see about tearing it down. We need to start correcting our old buildings. God forbid if a parade was going through downtown when one of these abandoned buildings collapses.”

Staff writer Rick Joslin contributed to this article.