Nearly four years have passed since a fire gutted two businesses located on a lot between 120 W. Center and 138 W. Center Street in Provo.
The debris left by the fire has long since been cleared from the lot, but local merchants are hot over what has become a "hole in the wall" scarring the downtown area.It's not hard to find. Just look for the charred walls, redwood weeds, tires and other garbage that grace the area. A dead tree stands between Center Street and the lot, which is just a couple buildings east of the Provo Economic Development and Redevelopment Agency and only a few feet from the Excelsior Hotel.
Provo Pharmacy owner Michael Berntsen says the unsightly lot discourages people from shopping downtown.
"Nobody is happy about it," he says. "I don't like it. I haven't liked it for four years. Now customers are starting to complain about it. It's driving them away."
Berntsen, who spent $40,000 in 1985 to spruce up the outside of his pharmacy, is incensed by an Association of Involved Merchants letter distributed to 200 downtown merchants last week encouraging them to "take time to clean up your store areas." The city, instead, should concentrate on cleaning up what he calls a "hole in the wall."
Actually, the area is better described as a "blight supreme," said AIM Director Linda Walton. She, too, would like to see the lot's weeds replaced with something a bit more sightly.
But according to Economic Development Director Gary Golightly and Redevelopment Director Ron Madsen, such things take time.
Madsen said the city can't take the lot through condemnation because it has no money to buy it. And the owner, Jeff Herrera, has no money to develop it.
So, Golightly said, officials are trying to create an ordinance that would force the owner to either clean up the lot or allow the city to do something with it.
Compounding the problem, Madsen said, is that Herrera has been difficult to track down.
"It looks real bad," Golightly said. However, he added, the city's hands have been tied because it doesn't own the lot.
He said Provo must pass some type of ordinance giving it power to clean up the area in case the owner continues refusing to do so himself.
"We've got a plan, and we're making sure we have our ducks in a row before we do anything with it," Golightly said. "We're working on an ordinance to do something about it. But that's not always an easy thing to do."
Before the summer's over, he said, officials hope to turn the lot into some type of walkway or driveway linking Center Street with the Excelsior Hotel.
Meanwhile, Provo shoppers need look no further than the "hole in the wall" on Center Street next time they need a bucolic respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
By the way, does anybody know where I can buy a machete?