An old, abandoned industrial site in the very early stages of planned redevelopment caught fire in the wee hours Sunday morning on Miami Street. Witnesses saw flames shooting into the air against the night sky before Urbana fire crews arrived to extinguish the main blaze.
Crews were still on the scene late Sunday knocking down hot spots and the fire is expected to smolder into the coming week. What remains of the building will likely be razed and removed.
The vacant property – a mostly brick structure – has been a nuisance in recent years and the Urbana Fire Division has a record of going there for inspections indicating fires, vandalism and mold. Sunday’s fire was a dramatic and spectacular example of the property’s woes.
After Sunday’s fire, police crime scene tape rimmed the area to keep people out as fire crews continued controlling the scene. The cause of fire has not yet been determined.
Vacant since 2008, the Miami Street property has quickly deteriorated into a community eyesore as a result of absentee ownership. The property has dealt with persistent vandalism and has required ongoing abatement of tall grass and weeds and the open dumping of solid waste.
In September, the Champaign County Board of Revision by a 3-0 vote approved transferring the long-abandoned property to the city of Urbana.
The board authorized the transfer of the former Q3/JMC Inc. property, 605 Miami St., consistent with the conditions of an ordinance city council approved in September authorizing Urbana director of administration Kerry Brugger to submit a request to transfer the 26 parcels listed in the property to the city.
As part of the ordinance and the city’s request, the board will waive all taxes and other expenses against the property and all lands acquired and held by the city shall be deemed real property used for a public purpose and shall be exempt from taxation until the property is sold. The tax delinquency for the property is in excess of $245,000.
The transfer is also contingent on the city being able to close on funding for the cleanup and redevelopment of the property. As of early September, the city was in active negotiations with JobsOhio, the Ohio Water Development Authority and a private party who is supposed to provide a significant amount of funding.
At a sheriff’s sale in early September, no bids were offered for the property – creating the potential for the city to acquire it.
The impact of Sunday’s fire on the city’s plans was unknown Sunday evening. No injuries had been reported as of Sunday afternoon and no one was believed to be inside when the fire started.
As recently as Nov. 4, Urbana City Council authorized a purchase order in the amount of $5,734 to Hull and Associates Inc. for technical assistance related to the Q3/JMC property.
Director of Finance Chris Boettcher, in response to questions about how much the city has spent to date on the project, said earlier this month it has cost the city between $20,000 to $30,000 in operating money from the general fund.
“Most, if not all, expenses associated with this has been for professional services with the attorneys,” she said.