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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Nov. 27, 201312:00 PM EST

City forecloses on Bostwick Building after owners fail to pay $60,000 in fines

by: David Chapman

Owed more than $60,000 in fines, the city took action against the Bostwick Building owners Wednesday by filing a foreclosure notice on the Downtown building.

The 101 E. Bay St. building has been accruing $100-a-day fines since March 2012 because of code compliance issues. The city is foreclosing on that lien.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday in Circuit Court, since Guaranty Trust Investments Inc. — members of the Bostwick family — acquired the property in 1996, the property has been before the city's special magistrate for municipal code compliance four times.

"Guaranty failed to conduct any structural repairs or take any meaningful action to abate the continued deterioration of the commercial structure," the complaint states.

The city is requesting the court to establish civil penalties, with interest, and order a sale of the property, applying the proceeds to satisfy the city's lien and attorney costs.

The filing comes a day after City Council confirmed decisions to make the building a historic landmark and deny its owners an appeal to demolish the structure.

Building co-owner Val Bostwick said Wednesday that the family was evaluating its options. He would not elaborate.

Council member Bill Bishop called the city's legal action "fantastic."

"It needs to get done. It's time," he said. "The building has been in an advanced state of decay for decades."

The Bostwick family has owned the building since 1902.

Bishop called the building a key piece of real estate that has become an "eyesore" that is structurally secure, but could become dangerous if allowed to further be neglected.

The blame for the neglect falls on the owners, he said, because it has been in the family for years without improvements.

In addition, he said he believes the city has "bent over backward" to help and that potential buyers who emerged were disregarded.

And, if the city wasn't prepared to foreclose on the liens, Bishop said he was prepared to file a resolution asking the city Office of General Counsel to do so.

Council member Lori Boyer chaired the committee where most of the discussion and debate took place this year.

"I don't see a downside in going ahead and filing to foreclose on the lien," she said Wednesday. "If a sale happens before the foreclosure date, great."

She said she believes the best case scenario would be for the owners to sell.

"They have exhibited an inability to put money into maintaining the building," she said.

With a deal on the table for the asking price and others that were rejected, Boyer said proving economic hardship was difficult.

The city is able to foreclose on liens it is owed for any property in the city, but for this case, Boyer says she thinks many within the city see the Bostwick Building as a "unique property and unique circumstance."

"If we don't do anything about it and the property owners does nothing to maintain, it declines," she said.

Bishop agrees.

"This is a special case," he said.

The filing is the culmination of more than a year of city decisions, owner objections and failure to make a deal.

In August 2012, the Bostwicks sought a permit to demolish the building. That triggered a review and needed approval from the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission. After review, the commission was determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Bostwicks filed an appeal to council and the commission filed its recommendation, both of which were heard in tandem.

All the while, $100-a-day fines were accumulating because the building was not in code compliance and deemed unsafe.

Several potential buyers emerged with interest to rehabilitate the building, with a group led by Jacque Klempf, CEO of Dixie Egg Co., coming to terms with the owners on a $325,000 purchase.

The demolition and historic designation bills were deferred so the Bostwicks and Klempf could finalize a deal, but an outstanding lawsuit with the building's neighbor was not settled.

Klempf let the contract expire and council decided to act on the legislation.

Others who made offers include business leader Preston Haskell and Daily Record publisher Jim Bailey.

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