Editorial: Unoccupied buildings

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Last week, a deadly fire ripped through the old Albany Theatre in downtown Albany, leaving one man dead. Three others, all believed to be homeless, had to be rescued from the fire, they may have started.

How did no one know this building was not secured, and that several people were living in the building?

When we asked Code Enforcement who is responsible for monitoring vacant properties in Albany, he stated it mainly lies on the property owner. And in this case, the old Albany Theatre is owned by ADICA, or the Albany Dougherty Inner City Authority.

Asked if it was secure, Albany Dougherty Director of Planning, Development Services and Code Enforcement Paul Forgey said: "I have no idea.  I mean, I know that the doors have been locked and that there's a chain on the gate in the front.  But whether it was at the time, I know that that's under investigation at the time, so I can't say."

Forgey says the only time Code Enforcement would have been called in to check on the property would be if there were complaints or concerns by the property owner or neighbors. And according to Forgey-- there were none.

And when we reached out to ADICA and the city for a response, it took five days for them to issue a statement. Five days is far too long in our opinion.

"Both entities consider this an unfortunate tragedy," said Phyllis Banks, Public Information Officer.  "Moving forward, continuous checks of the building will be made, and if there are any breaches found, those breaches will be repaired in a timely manner.  As well as continue to put up 'No Trespassing' signs for those who continue to enter the building in an unlawful manner."

We have open records requests out to uncover all the facts in this case. This fire could have spread and damaged or destroyed other downtown properties.

Some of our brave firefighters could have been injured or even killed going into a dilapidated structure to rescue trespassers, that had no business there in the first place.

This fire needs to serve as a wake-up call for vacant building owners across the city.

If you own a building, you need to be responsible enough to check on it.

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