As the Paducah City Commission is reviewing its 2015 budget, Paducah Fire Chief Steve Kyle is hoping to receive funds to continue their demolition program.
In the next fiscal year, the city could allocate $200,000 toward foreclosure and demolition projects in an effort to bring new life to some of the oldest neighborhoods in Paducah - Frenchtown and Upper Town.
"Foreclosure is as big a part of it as demolition," Kyle said. "If we don't own it, we can't do anything with it."
He estimates the money will be enough to demolish 29 buildings, but it's just a drop in the bucket compared to number of properties which have been identified as at-risk structures.
The Paducah Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division, took over building, construction and electrical inspections in 2012. At the time, the inspection department did not have a director, and it seemed appropriate to incorporate both departments into one.
"The fire department does code enforcement too. We've had a long-standing relationship with inspections," he said. "It seemed like a natural fit."
The previous inspection department had 40 houses out for bid for demolition.
"We suspected there were many more," Kyle said, "but there was no list, no ranking, no system. It became figuring out which properties needed it, where they were and what order they need to be done."
In March 2013, the fire department developed the first-ever comprehensive list of structures that needed to be demolished in the city. Currently, 101 buildings are on the list. Kyle estimated it would cost $687,000 to tear down every identified structure.
"We have a goal and we have a plan," he said. "One hundred structures is not manageable; that's too many."
Many of the properties are concentrated on the north and south sides of town. Each building is ranked, based on its state of decay or if the structure is inherently unsafe. Should an emergency occur in one of the abandoned, dilapidated homes, the possibility of a roof collapsing or floors giving way becomes a serious concern for firefighters, Kyle said.
"This (list) is purely from our own perspective, from our fire department. As we respond to these fires, it's unsafe. Our brothers and sisters in blue were a part of that too."
Abandoned buildings are sometimes prey to criminal mischief in general, Kyle continued.
"Anything from drugs, to scrappers to kids. Kids are what we worry about the most."
In Frenchtown, on the 1200 block of Salem Street, neighbors faced a different problem due to overgrowth around three adjoining dilapidated properties.
"The neighbors had told us they had a mosquito problem because of all that growth," Kyle said. "The structures themselves were in bad shape; the bushes were in bad shape, and there were both shaded and damp areas which could cause such problems."
Three homes on Salem Street were among the 30 structures demolished using city funding last year.
Twenty-six additional homes were demolished by private individuals. In several cases, Kyle said, neighboring homeowners or businesses purchased the property adjacent to their own after the city foreclosed on the property and covered the cost of demolition on their own.
Demolition can be unpopular, Kyle said, but thus far he's had no complaints.
"This is a way to turn it into a positive. This is neighborhood revitalization, and demolition has to be a part of it."
But it has never been their goal to force individuals to sell their property, he said.
"We want the owner to maintain their property and keep it. We look for structural issues such as gutters hanging off to chipping and peeling paints. But we have to take care of the bigger issues. All of the problems we see are due to lack of maintenance."
Once demolished, the end goal is to sell the lot to a new owner and to turn these neighborhoods into a welcoming place to live, much like the city has done with the Fountain Avenue neighborhood.
"The city commission could consider creating a program very similar to the Fountain Avenue Neighborhood Revitalization Program," said Steve Ervin, planning director. "Not a lot of new construction is happening in areas of downtown besides Fountain Avenue and Lower Town."
Offering incentives, such as waiving permit fees or down payment assistance, might be a way to encourage new construction in the area and "start to create a healthy neighborhood," Ervin continued.
"If you aren't talking annexation, then revitalization is one way to bring people back," said City Commissioner Richard Abraham.
Contact Carrie Dillard, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8657.
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