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Hearing could decide old opera houses fate
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In other business Monday night, the Council:
• Adopted a resolution authorizing to put on the April election ballot a proposition to continue the one half-cent city sales tax after its sunset on April 1, 2015. First approved by city voters in 2000, the purpose of the tax was three-fold – to provide property tax reduction, infrastructure improvements and economic development incentives.
The tax has generated between $1.4 million and $1.9 million each year, about 10 percent of the city’s budget. Of the total, 35 percent goes to property tax reduction, the equivalent of between five to seven mills.
As for the balance, 45 percent goes to infrastructure improvements (mostly streets and Fire Department equipment) and 20 percent goes to economic development incentives.
Referring to the 45 percent, about $650,000 will go for street work and $100,000 for equipment this year, Partington said.
The city also has a quarter-cent sales tax, approved in 2008, that is exclusively for streets.
• Adopted a resolution supporting housing tax credits for the Overland Park-based Overland Property Group’s application for 48 apartment units. At the Jan. 6 Council meeting, a resolution of support for Housing Tax Credits for the Overland to build 32 apartment units was adopted on Grant Street across from Walmart. The developer has now decided to apply for 48 apartment units. Therefore, a new resolution of support is needed, Partington said.
• Adopted a resolution of support for housing tax credits for Kansas Two L.P. to undertake a substantial renovation to Cherry Village I and Cherry Village II. Kansas Two L.P. has contacted the city regarding its intention to submit an application for the credits for their proposed project to do a substantial work at the facilities.
There are 62 one- and two-bedroom apartments included and about $35,000 will be spent on each. Work will involve new roofs, siding, doors and windows, and updates to the interiors.
• Authorized Mayor  Mike Allison to sign the annual township fire contracts with Great Bend, Buffalo, South Bend, and Liberty Townships, following a report from Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano.
• Authorized Allison to sign the Kansas Department of Transportation agreement that authorizes the usage of City of Great Bend LPA-certified inspectors to inspect the intersection improvements project at 24th Street and Main Street.
• Authorized Allison to sign the KDOT agreement for the geometric improvement project at US 281 Highway and Railroad Avenue. This work will include squaring up the intersection, improving the road surfaces and adding new lighting.
The project is a 90-10 match with KDOT.
• Heard a report from Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Jan Peters.
• Heard a departmental update from Partington.

Early in the morning on Dec. 18, a large chunk of the back southwest corner of the old opera house building at 2103 Forest tumbled to the ground. Later in the day, it declared the structure unsafe to occupy, forcing the renters, Euphoria Dance Studio and an apartment tenant, to move.
The Great Bend City Council Monday night set a public hearing for 7:30 p.m. March 17 as part of the Council meeting agenda to help decide the fate of the historic structure. Great Bend Building Inspector Lee Schneider has prepared the paperwork to find the building “an unsafe and dangerous structure.”
 Schneider said he has been in contact with the owners of the collapsing building, David and Barbara Pitcock of Hays. “I think they are dragging their feet,” he said.
He has a difficult time reaching them, and the only communications he’s had come via text messages.
He received one of these messages Monday. The Pitcocks indicated they had hired an engineering consultant to study the building.
Schneider was also in touch with this consultant. The engineers said they were three weeks away from making any recommendations.
“It’s going to be expensive to repair it,” Schneider said. “Taking it down is also going to be expensive” since the building is attached to four other properties. “It’s not an easy fix.”
The fallen bricks and debris from the building’s south second- and third-floor wall also closed the parking lot behind the building, which belongs to the nearby First United Methodist Church. A gaping hole exposing the interior of the third and top floor has since been patched with cinder blocks.
The issue dates back nearly two years. The city sent its first complaint letter to the owners in March 2012 after receiving an engineer’s report from MKEC Engineering Consultants of Wichita based on a November 2011 inspection.
Schneider said he received the report because the owners would not respond to the MKEC’s concerns about “structural deficiencies” in the building. MKEC attempted to contact the owners via mail and phone.
A second complaint was sent on Oct. 25, 2013, after more bricks had fallen. Attempts to reach the Pitcocks were again unsuccessful, Schneider said.
On Oct. 31, 2013, the city received a letter from David Pitcock.
“When we purchased the building we had no challenges with water leaking,” Pitcock said. Moisture getting in between the exposed bricks is considered the main reason for the collapse.
“Obviously when Larry Sloan demolished and destroyed the back side our building the issues started to arise,” he said. He was referring the razing of the former shoe shop building that is now the parking lot.
“I have been incredibly patient and allowed them over a year to fix what they destroyed,” Pitcock said. An engineer firm blamed the problems on Pitcock’s building on the removal of the other structure.
In the letter, Pitcock said he is considering legal action.
“I have  no plans to demolish the building,” he wrote. “I have had plans to fix the structural damage and have hoped Mr. Sloan would fix what he messed up. This has not happened.”
However, Monday night, Schneider said Sloan had told him he has tried to reach the Pitcocks and has gotten no response.
It is listed for sale through Coldwell Banker Sell Real Estate.
Dating back to the 1880s, the building originally served as an opera house, said Bev Komarek of the Barton County Historical Society. Over the decades, it has also housed numerous businesses and offices.
The society has campaigned to save the building in the past.