For the second time in a little more than two years, Pat Shannon’s City Council colleagues have approved a contract that will result in a property he owns being torn down.
By a 5-0 vote — Shannon left the council chamber and abstained to avoid a conflict of interest — the governing body on Tuesday moved forward with approving Omaha’s Heimes Corp. to demolish four bays at Emporium Plaza, 1501 Galvin Road S., as soon as possible, barring an injunction from the Nebraska Court of Appeals.
It’s the same company that demolished an unused car wash owned by Shannon in January 2018 after he underwent a half-year battle to preserve the structure that was located just south of 28th Avenue and Capehart Road. It was declared a nuisance by city officials before subsequently being condemned and razed.
“It’s just a matter of time before the wrong individual ventures into that structure and could be harmed,” said Mike Christensen, the city's chief building inspector. “It’s been 10 months, and it’s just been one delay after the other.”
With the demolition process now moving full-steam ahead, Christensen said it will take about 10 calendar days to ensure all utility measures are taken care of and another 10 days to get a demolition permit approved by state officials. This means that equipment used to raze the bays could be on site in about three weeks, Christensen said.
Emporium Plaza was severely damaged in May 2019 when flash flooding reportedly led to a retaining wall at an adjacent property failing, resulting in land debris and railroad ties crashing through a portion of Shannon’s property’s back wall, affecting numerous bays.
An emergency demolition on May 30 removed about 10 percent of the building. On June 5, the building was declared a public nuisance. It was subsequently condemned on Feb. 4 of this year after Shannon failed to take action to fix the problems or move forward with demolition, according to an affidavit filed by Christensen.
In early March, Shannon filed a complaint in Sarpy County District Court asking for a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief that would prevent city officials from demolishing the building, which records show he purchased in March 2016. That action was dismissed by District Court Judge George Thompson.
City Attorney Bree Robbins said she received a notice of appeal on Monday from Shannon’s attorney stating that his client was challenging Thompson’s order to dismiss in the Nebraska Court of Appeals. This action, she said, doesn’t prevent the city from moving forward with demolition.
Prior to a vote being cast by the council, attorneys representing Shannon and the property owners adjacent to Emporium Plaza were heard. Both spoke in opposition of the immediate demolition, noting that an investigation needs to take place prior to the building potentially being razed should future litigation arise.
Don Loudner, an associate attorney at The Saathoff Law Group who is representing Shannon’s company, Main Street Properties LLC, said since his February appearance before council he has received a formal Notice to Preserve physical evidence at the site from the insurance provider of the adjacent property owner. Since then, he said an engineer has been retained by Shannon.
Julie Jorgensen, an attorney with Omaha’s Morrow Willnauer Church LLC representing the adjacent property owner, said she and her colleagues were notified in mid-Februrary that Shannon’s team believes there is some blame to be placed on her client.
“We have had virtually no time to investigate at this point,” she said. “We have made efforts to reach and retain engineers to go in and inspect. There is no suit on file at this time, but there is a letter from (the defense’s) counsel indicating they place some blame of this on our client.
“Clearly, at this time we dispute the liability and we are asking for the opportunity to go in with an engineer and inspect.”
Jorgensen asked the council to grant a 60-day stay on demolition so she and her team could retain an engineer with expertise with various water systems. She noted that it has been difficult to land an engineer amid the COVID-19 scare.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Kathy Welch asked why the attorney hasn’t been able to land an engineer out of Omaha or nearby areas, to which Jorgensen said they are interested in a Minnesota-based engineer.
“It is often easier for litigation purposes to use people from national firms that may not be local and may not have ties to the area,” she said.
Loudner and Jorgensen both said that moving forward with the demolition could be financially injurious to both of their respective clients.
Ward 5 Councilman Don Preister emphasized the importance of taking portions of the building down immediately. With the normal rains associated with March and April, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, he said, of getting hit with a 3- to 5-inch downpour. This could easily result in the already compromised Emporium Plaza foundation giving way, he said.
In addition, he noted that this type of work could have been completed a long, long time ago.
“And you are asking us to assume that liability so you can have a little more time,” Preister said.