There’s a gate across the alley next to the Dryer Building on Front Street in downtown Conway.
Sometimes the gate is closed; more often not.
About 30 months ago, the city’s firefighters were doing some routine inspections downtown and one noticed that the north wall was leaning, said Fire Chief Bart Castleberry.
"We started trying to keep people away," Castleberry said.
The gate is to keep folks out of the alley, but opening and closing the gate is a bother to nearby businesses and the sanitation workers who use the alley frequently, so it stays open.
After Monday’s building collapse in Morrilton, the neighbors may reconsider.
The possibility of condemning the building with the leaning wall was on the City Council’s agenda about two years ago, said Bryan Patrick, director of planning and development.
"At that time, however, there were some nibbles from folks who were interested in purchasing the building and restoring it," Patrick said. "The Council wanted to give them time to work on a deal."
Those deals fell through, either after getting unfavorable reports from structural engineers or from banks who didn’t want to lend money for rehabilitation, Patrick said.
Randy Dryer, owner of the building that has been in his family for two generations, said he’s very concerned.
"The Morrilton collapse is a wake-up call for everybody," Dryer said Wednesday night.
A structural engineer working for the last prospective buyer, as recently as April 4, told Dryer that an old bank vault in the building at 908 Front St., two doors down, is sinking and settling, putting pressure on the other two buildings in the block.
To stop future movement, he wrote, the vault should be removed first.
"It’s causing my building to do what it’s doing," Dryer said.
Repair would be very difficult, the engineer reported. To bring the building straight again, a complex system of jacks and braces pushing at 45 degrees from across the alley would be required.
"He said I couldn’t tear my building down because the other two buildings will fall down, too," Dryer said. "Basically, my building is holding up the other two buildings."
"This has been going on for a long time, and I’m tired of it. Let’s get it done and over with, whether they tear down my building or whatever they do."
Assistant to the Mayor Jack Bell said the issue of condemnation may be back on the Conway City Council’s agenda soon.
"Based on what happened in Morrilton, it’s a good possibility," Bell said Tuesday. "Nobody wants to take down a historic building, but the options are to repair it or tear it down. The city has been working with the property owners, and they’ve been good to work with. We’ll have a meeting pretty soon to see what they want to do.
"There have been at least three groups interested in buying and remodeling. They decided it would take quite a bit of money to repair the north wall, and that’s before undergoing any renovation inside. These are good business people, but the cost/reward factor ... well, they couldn’t make the math work.
"It’s just sad. There are two ways to lose the building. Tearing it down safely would be the better of the two options."
(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at email@example.com or 505-1234.)