Downtown business owners keep hearing about big plans for renovation of the derelict Markham building on 14th Street, but the only action they see is people who don’t belong there waving from inside, feeding cats out back and sleeping in a sheltered alcove.
Realtor Lenny Sawyer worries a teenager is going to get hurt playing in the Markham, which looms over Sawyer Real Estate and Trinity Investments, owned by his brother.
He thinks the owner, a development group headed by Virginia attorney Robert Lubin, should put a tall cyclone fence around the landmark until renovations start. And there’s no word yet on when that will be.
The Markham has sat empty and deteriorating since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though it was an iconic building, it is now one of the last unrenovated Katrina-damaged properties remaining.
Urban Development Director Greg Pietrangelo said Monday no plans for development have been submitted to the city. A representative of Lubin, Jeannie Hilfiker of TKCS Development Services in Indianapolis visited the Markham on Monday morning with Donald Melton of Melton Construction in Gulfport.
“We have an architect in place and we hope to do a reveal by the end of the month for our plans,” Hilfiker told the Sun Herald. “We’re just trying to make sure it stays secure and safe for the community until we begin construction.”
There are no plans to erect a fence around the building but Melton said he will put a concrete barrier on the south end of the building, where plywood has been ripped from a large entrance.
But every time an entrance is blocked, people seem to find a new way in. Melton said they’ve even used rope to scale a two-story section on back of the building.
“We come to work some mornings, and people are waving at us from the windows,” Sawyer said.
During the early morning of Feb. 28, Sawyer was called downtown because police officers had responded to a suspected burglary in his building. Instead, they found golf balls — all over the roof and in the streets. Two days later, two of Sawyer’s agents saw a couple of teenage girls emerge from the hole in back of the building with golf clubs.
The golf balls left dents in Sawyer’s new metal roof and are wedged under three air conditioning units and a generator on the roof. He said he’ll have to have the units lifted and the balls removed so they don’t cause further damage. Sawyer has filed a police report over the incident, but the department is awaiting a damage estimate to see whether malicious mischief charges could apply.
“I'm worried about children getting hurt, children at nighttime going up on the roof of that building and throwing golf balls off,” Sawyer said. “It's wide open over there.”