AJ Giardina Reports On Complaints About Downtown Long Beach's Appearance

Take a look around and it is obvious that progress is being made in getting the coast back to normal after Katrina. But while lots of rebuilding and new construction are taking place, there are some buildings and properties that haven't been touched.

A number of citizens in Long Beach have been complaining about the downtown area. They say not enough is being done on Jeff Davis. They call it an eyesore.

"It's not getting any better in two years. Not as far as individual property owners go. Nothing is happening," Shawn Montella said.

Montella owns the Bankhouse Coffee and a beauty salon in the old Hancock Bank Building in downtown Long Beach on Jeff Davis. He established his business in 2000 and despite major damage in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina, he remodeled and is open for business. Montella says he's not happy with the progress of other downtown properties.

"I'd like to see the city enforce, and I know they're trying, but I'd like to see it move a little faster. Enforcement, boarding up vacant buildings, tearing down structures and I know that's it a long process to it but I'd love to see that ones that are standing repaired, board them up so the vagrants stay out and this stuff doesn't have to be monitored," Montella said.

Chris Carrubba owns Coast Flooring on Jeff Davis, and he too would like to see the downtown area cleaned up. He says he believes business would be better if Main Street looked better. He also worries that vacant buildings could become fire hazards.

"Oh that's exactly right and I do know that there have been some homeless people in some of these buildings on cold nights like we've had the past few days it very well could happen. They light a fire inside to try to keep warm and then this place is going to burn down," Carrubba said.

"It took a lot of time to get done what we've got done here and we've got a nice place trying to do business out of and I really think a lot of people avoid downtown just because of the vacant buildings and the eyesores that they see that makes it difficult for business owners like myself to bring the people in."

One building on Main Street has a new roof, but since that was put on, Long Beach Mayor Billy Skellie says, nothing else has been done to secure the building. The mayor says the city enforcement officer will take further action.

"Well, you give them all the notifications that's required by law. You do a judication process. In the judication process, it takes 30 days plus, and then they still have time to respond again. But anyhow, it's kind of a drawn out situation if Long Beach has to go forward and remove a property that the property owner is not taking responsibility for," Mayor Skellie said.

WLOX News also received complaints about the vacant City Hall building. Mayor Skellie says remodeling of City Hall began, but stopped when the city received a $5 million grant to build a new building.

"That's not a FEMA project, that's a HUD project, CDBG money. And I actually signed the papers last week, which we have been waiting about four or five months to get this done, but they finally came," Mayor Skellie said.

The mayor says Long Beach is still six to eight months away before any demolition work is to be done on the old City Hall, and once construction begins on the new City Hall. That will take about two years to complete.

"We'd like it to be a lot quicker. Everybody is starting to get a little impatient. You've been in this process over two and a half years."

Mayor Skellie admits progress in many areas of his city has been slow, but says it's the process that FEMA uses and what a city has to go through to get approved.

As far as local property owners, he wants to see them speed up their clean up efforts or they could face legal action.