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KINGSBURG – The fate of the former Swedish Mill building will be getting decided sooner than later after a hard decision was reached at the Jan. 2 Kingsburg City Council meeting.

“I don’t think any of us want to see the building demolished,” Mayor Michelle Roman said. Talks have been ongoing with the owners, Bakersfield’s Joseph and Elizabeth Ghazale, to make upgrades to the building and its grounds and parking lot. Earlier, the owners were put on notice to either make the upgrades or have the City make the improvements and a lien be placed on the property, or have the building demolished.

“He’s already received, based on the evidence and the documents, what caused it to be a public nuisance during the hearing process,” Assistant City Attorney Rissa Stuart said.

City Manager Alex Henderson said he will find out what it will cost to demolish or repair the building.

“When we get to the point where if nothing’s happened in 30 days, then Council will have the decision to make to move in either direction.”

Neither of the Ghazales appeared at the Jan. 2 meeting, but local general contractor Josh O’Bannon who’s working for the owner, spoke about the building’s current state and what the owner had planned for the iconic building.

“He’s been talking with two franchisees and now it’s just one,” he said of Ghazale’s plan to have a restaurateur invest in making further improvements and then open a Country Waffle there. Talks are continuing, O’Bannon said, but “nothing’s in writing yet.”

O’Bannon said he’ll continue working with Ghazale to repair the building.

“I think we can complete some of this stuff and even get a franchisee in place before those time frames are up and it comes to the point where you have to actually physically do something. Maybe they can go on at the same time.”

Henderson said if a franchise does not come through, Ghazale will need to decide whether to sell the building or pay for the improvements himself.

“When someone purchases a building like that, the thought would be they were going to be doing something with it. That’s the hope.”

The Council strengthened their abatement laws back in 2017 and since then have made a concerted effort to have buildings owners repair structures that have been sitting vacant, becoming dilapidated and deemed to be a public nuisance because of their condition.

During this meeting, Henderson reviewed the previous steps that have been taken regarding the former Mill. A first hearing was held Oct. 17 where a 30-day notice was given for improvements to be made. Some clean up and improvements were done and another 30-day extension was granted. During the Dec. 5 meeting, Council decided that future extensions would be halted until Ghazale showed what specific progress on the building had been made.

“Since that time, we’ve reached out to the owners to get additional information,” Henderson said. “To this point, we’ve not received any additional information or documentation.”

O’Bannon, president of Trinity Construction, said he thinks the holidays may have delayed progress with securing a franchisee but he remained optimistic progress would be made. The owner had authorized him to continue making engineering designs and take out a plumbing permit for upgrades. Next, he was going to work on the electrical and ADA upgrades.

O’Bannon admits the building is not ready to house a restaurant, but said progress has been made in removing debris, graffiti, vermin and improving the overall look of the property.

“If you go by there today, it’s not where it needs to be. It’s not complete and it’s not in a state to be open, but I think it’s substantially better than it was with a new roof and paint. The doors and windows have been put back in and debris has been cleaned up.”

O’Bannon said he feels the owner does want to move forward.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s dead and he’s just wanting to let the thing sit and rot.”

O’Bannon offered to come back with a schedule, but Mayor Roman said that’s what they were expecting to see that night.

“I’m speaking for myself, I’m very upset that he wasn’t here tonight because we did ask him to be here.”

The matter will be brought back to another Council meeting to determine what steps to take next.

In other matters, the Council heard a report from the Kingsburg Youth Baseball Association, awarded a contract to make new way-finding signs, discussed Athwal Park projects, new procedures for special events and divided up committee responsibilities among the Council as new members have been sworn in.

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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