A crumbling, hollow storage space underneath a west Exchange District sidewalk has pitted a building owner against city officials over who is responsible for stabilizing the abandoned underground cavern.
Daniel Lojo went to city hall this week to appeal an order directing his family to develop and carry out a plan to shore up the cavern that wraps around the north and west sides of the building at 216 Pacific Ave.
Lojo said the stabilization work could cost a minimum of $100,000, adding the unexpected expense could jeopardize his family's attempt to renovate a century-old building that has been vacant for several years.
Lojo said the cavern, known as an areaway, is on city property and stabilizing it should be the city's responsibility.
"That is not our property," Lojo told members of the property and development committee.
City officials said the caverns are commonly adjacent to several old Exchange District buildings and were traditionally used for the benefit of building owners as storage for coal or locations for boilers. It's the city's position the Lojos are responsible for the work.
The city originally gave the Lojos six weeks to complete the repairs but the deadline has been pushed back pending the outcome of the appeal. The Lojos want the committee to quash the order.
Lojo said the building, constructed in 1913, had been vacant for several years before his family bought it in 2010. Their plan is to renovate and lease the main floor for office or commercial space and convert the upper two stories into residential units.
When his family bought the property, a search of the title found no caveats that legally bind them to be responsible for the underground cavern, he said.
The family discovered the underground cavern, about three metres high and three metres wide, wraps around the exterior of the building's foundation and saw it was deteriorating in several spots.
"The foundation (where the sidewalk meets the roadway) is bowing and could collapse," Lojo said, adding his family is repairing the building's foundation.
The cavern wall is made of stone. The ceiling is made of yellow brick built in a series of arches to support the sidewalk above. Both the stone wall and brick ceiling are crumbling. At one point, the brick ceiling has fallen away completely and asphalt can be seen where city crews had placed an asphalt patch on the sidewalk above it.
Lojo said his family has no need of the cavern and plans to close off access.
Coun. Justin Swandel (St. Norbert) said he didn't want to see the building abandoned again, and convinced the committee to lay the matter over for 30 days to provide time for the Lojos and city officials to continue their discussions.