Federal funding OK’d for demolition of downtown area
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 10, 2013 | 3588 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
City officials announced Tuesday that federal funding to demolish downtown buildings destroyed by the April 27, 2011, tornadoes has been approved. The city is counting on approximately $1 million from FEMA for the project. Photo by: Ron Harris
City officials announced Tuesday that federal funding to demolish downtown buildings destroyed by the April 27, 2011, tornadoes has been approved. The city is counting on approximately $1 million from FEMA for the project. Photo by: Ron Harris
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CORDOVA — Cordova’s battle over federal funding for downtown demolition ended Friday when city officials learned that FEMA’s Office of Environmental and Historical Preservation has signed off on the project.

Disaster recovery coordinator Dean Harbison made the announcement Tuesday at the meetings of the Cordova City Council and the Long Term Recovery Committee, where the news was met with a round of applause.

Harbison told both groups that he is still waiting on written confirmation of the conversation that took place Friday evening with a state EMA official.

“They (EHP) have accepted all of the things that we provided and our demo has been granted,” Harbison said to the council. “Hopefully within the next two to three months, we’ll definitely see some drastic changes.”

Members of EHP have spent several weeks reviewing the photographs and historical documentation required by a memorandum of agreement regarding demo.

Last February, EHP declared that because of downtown’s historical significance, its destruction qualified as an “adverse effect” that would have to be addressed before federal funding could be received.

The city submitted some historical documentation last summer but received word in late October that more was needed before EHP could approve demolition.

The city is depending on approximately $1 million from FEMA to complete the project. Harbison said that funding has now been passed down from FEMA to the state, which will release it to the city as demo is completed.

Although a major hurdle has been cleared, there is still much work to do.

FEMA official Jim Corcoran, who has worked closely with Cordova since the April 2011 tornadoes, gave LTRC members a set of tasks that will need to be completed in the coming weeks.

First on the list is finishing up the documents necessary for the bid process to begin.

Corcoran said state officials have advised that the request for proposals should be advertised in at least two newspapers. LTRC members expressed an interest Tuesday in advertising throughout the state, digitally as well as through print media, to reach a larger pool of candidates for the project.

A pre-bid conference must be scheduled, and a project manager must be hired to oversee demolition, which the selected bidder will have 60 days to complete.

The city must also secure right-of-entry documents from several property owners who have yet to give written permission for their buildings to be torn down.

Corcoran urged LTRC members to also begin thinking ahead to construction of downtown.

“Because of the time constraints associated with insurance, we’re going to want to jump on that pretty quickly,” Corcoran said.

Harbison said after the LTRC meeting that the city was given an 18-month window to begin construction as part of its insurance settlement.

The timeframe was later extended to 28 months from the disaster, which would be August.

LTRC members were also encouraged to move beyond demolition, their goal for more than 18 months, to construction by the mayor.

“I think your focus shifts now to what’s going to take the place of what we tear down, not only of what we control but who else we can attract,” Gilbert said.

The looming obstacle, however, is a familiar one in Cordova, whether the topic is razing or rebuilding — money.

“You’re not going to be able to do everything all over again,” Corcoran said to LTRC members. “You will be limited in what funds you will be receiving, so you are going to have to prioritize the buildings that you have the funds to do construction on.”

The news regarding demo is the second breakthrough in less than a month on projects at the core of Cordova’s long term recovery.

On Dec. 19, Gov. Robert Bentley announced that the city has been awarded nearly $1.4 million to rebuild a grocery store. That funding is expected to be received within 90 to 120 days.