An historic downtown building that was deemed unfit for residential or commercial use at the beginning of the year now has come into compliance with the city’s demands.
Lanier Bagwell, owner of the Jackson Building downtown, received a letter from Gainesville’s City Attorney James E. "Bubba" Palmour, notifying him that all of the code violations that landed him in court four months ago have been brought into compliance.
His son, attorney Benjamin Bagwell, framed the letter for his father because it was a sign that the months-long ordeal with the city of Gainesville is over and the nearly 100-year-old building is deemed "fit" for residential, commercial and business use.
Lanier Bagwell says he spent nearly $70,000 following all of the city’s demands, which included reinforcing the rusted steel on the fire escape, installing a working fire alarm system, moving air conditioning units so that they would comply with fire codes and acquiring permits for all the necessary work.
"If you want my receipts, I’ll show them to you," Lanier Bagwell said.
In January, Gainesville sued Bagwell over a list of more than 30 violations of the city code. The lawsuit stemmed from an annual inspection from the city fire marshal’s office in November, in which fire marshals discovered "serious life safety issues," said Jerome Yarbrough, Gainesville’s fire marshal. The Jackson Building had passed a similar inspection by the fire marshal’s office in 2006, Yarbrough said.
When fire marshals find a violation of the fire code, they return in 30 days to make sure violations have been brought into compliance.
"If it’s something that’s an immediate life and safety issue, we try to address those problems immediately," Yarbrough said.
Some of the Jackson Building’s issues, a useless fire alarm system and dysfunctional sprinkler system, were serious life safety issues, Yarbrough said.
Following the initial inspection, fire marshals returned to the Jackson Building six times, Yarbrough said, checking to see if those violations had been taken care of. They had not.
"I don’t know what were the issues of the delinquency of fixing the problem," Yarbrough said. "All I know is we made numerous visits to that location for a certain problem... and nothing was getting done."
At that point, the fire marshal notified the City Marshal’s Office and the city’s Inspections Services department also got involved.
Yet Lanier Bagwell said he was hesitant at first to spend money fixing problems on a building that he was not even sure that he would own. Jennifer Bagwell, Benjamin Bagwell’s former wife, has a deed to secure a $395,000 debt on her ex-husband’s business, Tugaloo Piedmont Investments Co. At the time the fire marshals came in, Jennifer Bagwell was trying to foreclose on the building.
However, when the Bagwells met Gainesville officials in the courtroom on Jan. 28, Jennifer Bagwell no longer claimed ownership of the building, and Lanier Bagwell was the one responsible for repairs.
On Friday, Jennifer Bagwell told The Times that she decided against foreclosure because she did not want to be responsible for fixing code violations on a building in which she has no interest.
"I didn’t want to have to pay the bill for that when none of that had anything to do with me or was my fault," said Jennifer Bagwell.
But most importantly to the city, the Jackson Building is fit for residential and commercial use, and as of April 1, the building met all fire and life safety codes.
"So he’s good until next April," when the Jackson Building is due for another annual fire inspection, Yarbrough said.
On April 2, Philip Gruber with Gainesville’s Inspections Services department, issued a certification of completion for all the work Hall County Superior Court Judge Fred Bishop ordered Lanier Bagwell to complete.