PRINCETON — Scott and Katie Clark watched the demolition Tuesday of a building they once thought would be a refuge for disabled veterans.
"When I saw the stained glass window fall in last night, I have to admit I teared up," Katie Clark said.
Demolition crews were at the 904 South Gibson property Tuesday, where half of the east side of the former Memorial Episcopal Methodist church was already leveled.
The demolition of the dilapidated building is underway by the City of Princeton, but the Clarks said Monday night they think they were misled.
"I was trying to do something good with this church building," Scott Clark told the Princeton Board of Public Works and Safety. Prior to speaking, Clark was advised by City Attorney Jason Spindler that while he was being allowed to address the board of works and council, there would be no response to his comments from city representatives.
Spindler said two weeks ago that he planned to talk with the Clarks about pursuing demolition of the structure. The demolition was scheduled after Princeton Building Commissioner Clinton Smith confirmed the property was cordoned off as a precautionary measure following reports of debris falling from the building.
According to county property records, the former Methodist church building, constructed in 1920, was vacant in the 1990s for a time, then served temporarily as a homeless shelter before it was sold in 1999 and deeded in 2000 to The Cornerstone Holiness Church. In 2011, it was deeded to O.R. Timber Inc., and in April 2016, it was deeded to Clark.
Clark, a 23-year Army veteran and his wife, initially envisioned transforming the property into a resource point for housing and meals for disabled veterans.
Before Clark took ownership of the property, the building had sustained severe storm damage and deterioration over the years.
In 2017, following complaints from neighbors about animals coming in and out of the building, Smith contacted the Clarks about doing something with the property.
While several dilapidated properties in Princeton have been razed with state Blight Elimination Project grant funds, Spindler said earlier this month that the property didn’t meet the grant program criteria.
Clark said Monday night that he feels misled in the process. "I don't think it's right, what's been happening..." he told the board of works. "They were saying they would help...at little to no cost to me...
"I think that's bad. That's bad leadership," Clark told the board. He said he made multiple attempts to contact the city.
Following the meeting, Clark provided a printed copy of an 8:50 a.m. Oct. 31, 2017 email from Princeton Building Commissioner Clinton Smith. The copy of the email states "The funding that is available to get this goal accomplished requires the city to be the program partner. The City would be more than willing to participate in a joint venture on helping you achieve your end goal of housing for veterans. If this is something that you are still interested in, I can set up a meeting to get the process started."
According to the email thread provided by Clark, he replied asking whether the funding would come from the city's blight elimination program, reiterating, "...I don't have that kind of money to pay someone to have it tore down..." and agreeing to "talk more about this and set something up."
Clark's copy of a 12:43 p.m. Oct. 31, 2017 reply email from the building commissioner states "It will not be the exact same blight program the county has going right now but very similar. There should be little to no out-of-pocket expense. When you are ready to meet let me know and we will get together."
The cost estimate of the demolition work hasn't been presented to the common council yet for an appropriation.
The city recently completed demolition of the former IOOF building on East State Street. The cost for that work exceeded $200,000. The project also prompted a pending federal lawsuit against the city from Halfrack Properties LLC.