HIGHLAND PARK –– It was more than a decade ago that the city forced the owner of the Security Trust & Savings Bank building to sell the imposing structure for use as a Highland Park City Hall and constituent services center. Now, with the building remaining empty and unused, the previous owner says the city must now offer to the sell back the historic landmark.
Except for the occasional film shoot or special community event, the two-story Renaissance Revival structure at the corner of Figueroa and Avenue 56 has been empty for more than a decade. The city historic landmark — designed by the same architectural firm that worked on the iconic L.A. City Hall — is one of the last major commercial buildings that has not been renovated on this stretch of Figueroa, where new restaurants and stores have opened in recent years.
On Friday, the lawyer for the previous owner, Richard Rutgard, appeared before the City Council to oppose a measure that renews the city’s long-delayed plans to convert the building for public use.
Attorney Charles D. Cummings claims the city council missed a 10-year-deadline requiring it to take such action by the end of May under state laws governing the use eminent domain to take over private property. Now, under the same laws, the city must now offer to sell the property back to the owner, according to Cummings.
“The 10 years have expired,” Cummings told the council. “You’re beyond that point.”
But the council went ahead and passed the measure.
The City Council had been made aware two years ago that the deadline was approaching after staff reported that renovating the structure, a project that would cost $16.5 million and take four years to design and complete.
In a letter to the City Council, Cummings said First District Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Highland Park field office, located across the street from the empty bank building, serves as a constituent center. That means the city does not need his client’s former building to serve the same purpose.
“The only action that the City may legally take, and, indeed, is required to take, is to offer our client the opportunity to repurchase the Subject Property,” Cummings said in his letter.
The Eastsider has contacted Cummings and Cedillo’s office for more information.
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