Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mount Vernon Is Slow to Rebuild after Fire

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mount Vernon Is Slow to Rebuild after Fire

Article excerpt

It's been almost five months since fire destroyed nearly a block of buildings in the heart of downtown Mount Vernon.

But the pile of rubble remains, and local officials still aren't sure when cleanup will start or what will replace the historic wrecked buildings.

"We're confident that the cleanup efforts will begin shortly," said Mount Vernon's city manager, Craig Olsen. Even so, he declined to give a timetable for clearing the debris or for redeveloping the site, which is across the street from the Jefferson County Courthouse on Mount Vernon's downtown square. "There've been discussions, is all I can say," Olsen noted. The discussions have centered on how the cleanup costs will be divided among the five property owners whose turn-of-the-century buildings were wrecked in the fire. Some of the property owners say they're waiting for insurance settlement checks before committing to pay cleanup bills. One thing is sure, Olsen and some others say: The old structures won't be replaced with similar two-story buildings. "The style of construction of those buildings didn't lend itself to what is needed there in the 1990s," Olsen said. Herb Downey is operating manager for the Downtown Mount Vernon Development Corp. development agency. He said officials ultimately hope to redevelop the burned-out block with one-story buildings and convenient parking lots. Most of the burned buildings lacked tenants on their second floors, and parking in the area had been less than adequate, he said. The fire raged through the block in Mount Vernon - a city of 17,000 people about 70 miles southeast of St. Louis - before dawn on April 24. In all, three buildings burned to the ground, and a fourth was damaged beyond repair. Fire officials estimated the total damage at $5 million. Fire Chief Larry Fally said last week that officials had yet to determine a specific cause for the fire, but that foul play wasn't suspected. "The evidence (of a cause) will still be there" when the debris is cleaned up, Fally said. The only building still standing on the block is that of Steffy Home Furnishings. It was virtually gutted by fire and water damage, and the owners have vacated it. …

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