ELKHART — Don’t let the new windows fool you.
Two side-by-side buildings at the corner of South Main and Lusher Avenue will be demolished within weeks, according to an Elkhart city official.
Attempts to save the buildings on the southwest corner of the intersection have come to an end after more than three years city officials have spent haggling with the owner over whether the buildings could be salvaged.
A notice of demolition was posted on the property earlier this month despite visible signs of improvements, including new windows and insulation on parts of the second floor facing the two streets.
The improvements, though, appear to be the result of either miscommunication and possibly another attempt to do anything to save the building, according to Denny Correll, the city’s building commissioner.
The city has struggled to get any cooperation from the owner, Alfredo Ponce, for years, Correll said.
But ultimately, the buildings suffer from severe structural problems, Correll said.
On several occasions, the building department took administrative steps against the owner demanding something be done. That would then be followed by limited signs of cooperation, such as small repairs, but more inactivity would soon resume, Correll said.
Even after family members were informed that a demolition hearing had been scheduled for September and that a performance bond would be needed to make improvements, arrangements were made to have new windows and insulation installed on the upper floor.
The recent work was done by Mike Hawkins who said Monday he was living in the upstairs during the project, but has since moved.
The issue has been complicated because Ponce lives in Mexico and speaks little English, Correll said.
Employees with the building department had originally sought action on the building because of falling bricks on the north side and other structural concerns, Correll said.
The circumstances, though, changed after code enforcement officers realized the middle building was in even worse condition structurally, Correll said.
The middle building had numerous problems including damaged rafters that had later been spliced together.
Other problems included a rotting foundation and an exterior wall that appears ready to buckle.
Correll said they determined that removal of the middle building would make the structure to the north even more unstable.
The building to the south, which has been used for auto repairs, will not be demolished, Correll said.
A resolution to the case slowed after officials learned the three separate buildings — that appear to be joined — sit on several different legal tracts of land, yet are owned by the same person.
The city has received a handful of bids, the lowest of which was for about $29,000.
Correll said the demolition could happen within a few weeks.
The building on the corner was formerly home to a furniture store and was most recently a Mexican restaurant.
Hawkins admits the demolition will be an improvement to the immediate area, which now includes a new auto parts store across the street.
He said he thinks the building — especially the brick wall — was damaged over time by the vibrations caused by nearby train traffic to the east.