TEXARKANA, Ark. — Damage caused by an accident during the demolition of the former Regency House building downtown likely will lead to demolition of the adjacent building, as well.
A portion of Regency House's brick wall fell onto the vacant building next door, at 114 E. Broad St., damaging a significant portion of it. The building now likely will have to be demolished too, said Dan Butler, a partner in the company that owns it, Downtown Texarkana LLC.
"They were trying to save the wall between them to give some reinforcement to 114's wall, and they were going to cut the adjoining wall level with the top of that building. When they got close to the back of the building, I don't know what they hit or damaged. Anyway, that wall fell over onto 114, and it took out probably 25 or 30 percent of the south end of the building," down to the ground floor, Butler said.
Ward, Arkansas-based contractor Graylee Construction and Demolition is liable for the damages, and all demolition activities are on hold as the company's insurance provider investigates, said Tyler Richards, Arkansas-side director of public works. A Graylee spokesperson declined to comment Monday, citing the ongoing investigation.
The most recent Miller County property tax assessment deemed the market value of the building to be $33,700.
Richards said safety precautions in place prior to the start of the project prevented the accident from hurting anyone. Butler said he was thankful there were no injuries.
"Everything else can be fixed, replaced or bought out or torn down, but you can't replace a life," he said.
Butler's office on the fifth floor of the Legacy Building at East Broad Street and North State Line Avenue overlooks the demolition site, and he heard a loud boom when the wall fell, he said, quick to add that it was "a freak accident" and he had observed the Graylee crew doing excellent work on the site.
Potential tenants recently showed interest in opening a restaurant in the building, but Butler sees little chance of that happening now.
"I would expect it to be demoed as well as the Regency building," he said.
David Mallette, who owns the building next door, at 116 E. Broad St., was critical of the city for not communicating with him about the matter.
"I should have been contacted immediately. Certainly accidents happen, but when a contractor takes out a building in a National Historic Register block we need answers," he said.
City Manager Kenny Haskin responded that all damage was restricted to the building adjacent to the demolition site.
"All damage was limited to 114 E. Broad. No damage extended to 116 E. Broad. Mr. Mallete would have been notified prior to cleanup of 114 E. Broad. The insurance company ordered a cease and desist on demolition until they are able to review; therefore all activities have stopped. Mr. Mallete will be given all the information we have upon review by the insurance company," Haskin said.
Last August, the Regency House's extensively-damaged roof collapsed through the remains of the floor beneath, destabilizing the structure and creating the possibility of falling debris. The city immediately blocked access to the street and sidewalk in front of the building and closed the park next door.
The cost of demolishing the building has been estimated at $500,000. The building's owners have all but abandoned it, leaving the city to pay the bill. In March, Mayor Allen Brown indicated that the city may be considering litigation to recoup the cost. "It is beyond me," Brown said during a Board meeting, how the owners could leave the city responsible for the demolition cost. "We are looking for other avenues," he said. "We're going to go after these guys and see if we can't recoup some of our money."
The former Regency House property's history dates to 1878, when it was first deeded to a local Masonic lodge, according to previous Gazette reports. A general store operated on the site until the building burned down in 1885. Operators of a dry goods store, Texarkana National Bank and again the Freemasons in turn owned a new brick building at the address.
From 1945 to 1978, a department store started by William Dillard, later founder of the Dillard's chain, operated in the building. The building was vacant from 1979 to 1988, when it became home to Regency House, a retailer of china, crockery and glassware. It has been vacant since 2002.