TARPON SPRINGS — The lot at 144 E Tarpon Ave. has sat empty since June, a gaping hole in a block of businesses along the city's main drag.
After months of negotiation with the owner, the city demolished the historic building that stood there last summer, fearful that the dilapidated, top-heavy structure could tumble onto passers-by.
The city billed owner Frank Forbes for the demolition, but Forbes hasn't paid the $107,570 and now the city is suing him, city officials said Monday.
"We went to great lengths … to have them come and propose some sort of payment plan," said City Attorney Jim Yacavone.
The building was built in 1906 by one of the city's first settlers, Granville E. Noblit Sr., who ran a hardware store there. Forbes lived and ran a used furniture store there after he bought the building in the early 1980s.
Over time, the building fell into disrepair. By the time it was condemned, the floors had deteriorated, the walls were partially collapsed and rainwater poured through holes in the ceiling.
Neither Forbes nor his daughter, Toni, could be reached for comment Monday. But the elder Forbes said last year that he was in the process of hiring a contractor to demolish the building when city commissioners passed a six-month moratorium to evaluate its historic significance.
In March 2008, commissioners designated the site a "traditional cultural property," meaning it was deemed integral to the city's cultural identity. The designation allows stricter guidelines for rebuilding. Commissioners gave the same designation to neighboring 138 E Tarpon Ave., also owned by Forbes and also demolished.
Two months later, the city issued a demolition order, which Forbes did not comply with, Yacavone said.
The demolition of the two buildings was tricky because the west wall of 138 E Tarpon Ave. was connected to Menzer's Antiques next door. The project required roof repairs to Menzer's, dealing with asbestos, a regrading of the land and the installation of a fence to keep out trespassers.
For months, Yacavone and Toni Forbes corresponded about the property (valued at $161,000 on the county tax rolls), but Forbes never worked out an arrangement with the city, Yacavone said.
Paul Menzer, who owns Menzer's Antiques, said he'd much rather have an empty lot than a condemned building next door. But he'd like to see the property developed.
"The taxpayers have footed that bill," Menzer said. "How long will it take for them to get the money from the property owner or seize the property … and create something there to justify the expense?"
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4162.