published Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Building collapses on M.L. King Blvd: Tower Construction had plans to renovate structure

Firefighters and other rescue personnel survey the demolition of one of the remaining walls of a building that collapsed on M.L. King Boulevard on Thursday morning in Chattanooga.
Firefighters and other rescue personnel survey the demolition of one of the remaining walls of a building that collapsed on M.L. King Boulevard on Thursday morning in Chattanooga.
Photo by Alyson Wright.

Looking over the pile of wood scraps and blocks that was a standing structure before Thursday, Calvin Ball could only shake his head.

He'd toured the building his company owns at 326 E. M.L. King Blvd. with a structural engineer within the past two weeks, and planned to renovate it for a business tenant.

But that was before he got a text at 7:55 a.m. Thursday "telling me my building had collapsed," said Ball, whose co-owns Tower Construction Co. with his father, Gary Ball.

"That kind of put a damper" on long-held plans to renovate the former FeFe Lounge, Calvin Ball said.

The top floor of the two-story building fell without warning after part of a wall gave way, Gary Ball said. Residents in a condo next door reported they heard a loud noise about 5:30 a.m., according to a Chattanooga Fire Department news release.

The shower of debris had crushed two cars owned by tenants in next-door condos also owned by Tower.

But "no people were hurt, and that's an answer to prayer," Calvin Ball said.

The Chattanooga Fire Department evacuated the condo residents and businesses, and traffic was detoured off M.L. King between Houston and Douglas streets all day until 6:50 p.m. Thursday night when the boulevard was reopened to traffic after the building was demolished by a city public works track hoe.

Crews had to dig up a gas line to shut off service before city public works employees could start knocking down the front and back walls with a trackhoe. Tower will be responsible for the rest of the cleanup, Calvin Ball said.

Fire Department spokesman Bruce Garner said demolition work was halted for a while when two barrels, one identified as corrosive material, were taken from the building.

Stalled revival

Tower Construction paid $70,000 for the building at 326 E. M.L. King in 2007, according to a 2010 Times Free Press story.

The building then had extensive water damage and structural decay and Calvin Ball estimated it might take $100,000 to make it usable.

The company already had renovated adjacent buildings into a city data center and a hair salon. The owners were part of a joint Lyndhurst Foundation/RiverCity Co./Cornerstones project that hoped to revive the street.

But that stalled and died, Sarah Morgan with Lyndhurst said Thursday.

"There was a hope at one time the street would come back to life like it was when it was the Big Nine," she said, referring to the bustling black music and entertainment empire that once existed along M.L. King. "But you have to have property owners who will tackle something new, and we haven't had enough of that."

Gary Ball said he plans to rebuild.

"We'll clean it up and make it a nice grass lot and then we'll see if there's a market for some new construction in there. We'll just have to see; MLK hasn't really done much."

Staff writer Ellis Smith contributed to this story.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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