City officials say a decision must be made on whether the Hunts building can be repaired or must be torn down.
Barricades block pedestrians from strolling underneath the awning of the old Hunts Department Store on Broadway.
Stucco is falling from beneath the awning. Ceramic tiles are falling off the facade, and the familiar Hunts and S&H Green Stamps sign is pulling away from the wall.
City Manager Greg Buckley said, “Ugly is one thing. Derelict or dangerous is another. We’ll have to see.”
Jack Bethany, supervisor over city code enforcement and building inspections, said a complaint was phoned in Thursday morning.
The stucco falling from under the awning is filled with nails and close to coming down completely — “not safe” for anyone to walk underneath, he said.
“Within a few minutes, we had someone over there,” Bethany said. “We asked the public works department to come out and barricade the sidewalk right away.”
Broken windows have been boarded over, though some boards have been pulled away and left loose.
Although the building looks like it’s in terrible condition, Bethany said the city has not decided yet whether to handle the problem as a derelict building or a building to be condemned.
Regardless of the city’s decision, “This is going to have to be repaired some way or another,” Bethany said.
If it’s declared derelict, the building owner, David M. Garrett Sr., has to be given time to respond to a request to repair the building. If it is condemned, Garrett will have the right to a hearing in front of the public appeals board as well.
Garrett was unavailable Thursday and Friday to talk about the building.
Buckley said city ordinances do not cover unsightliness, but do cover anything that could be a danger to the public. How bad the condition of Hunts has not yet been determined.
Officials whose time is invested in promoting and improving downtown would like to see the building put to good use.
“As long as the building wasn’t a safety hazard, there wasn’t a lot the city could do about it,” said Jonita Mullins, director of Downtown Muskogee Inc. “Now that it has become a safety issue, perhaps the city has a little more leeway to do something about the problem.”
Mullins said she’s spoken with Garrett in the past and is hopeful something can be done with the building, “because it’s just wasted space right now.”
Mullins said she’d like to see the space turned into something creative and useful to downtown — especially to the residents of two large apartment buildings on either end of the block.
Directly across the street from the Hunts building is the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce.
When Chamber President Treasure McKenzie looks across the street, she sees possibilities.
“We feel there would be good, productive uses for that space,” she said. “It is underutilized space and there must be some way to make it appealing and profitable.”
McKenzie said the ideal downtown setting has curb appeal, is aesthetically pleasing — something both the Chamber and Downtown Muskogee Inc. want for all of downtown.