The city attorney's office filed a lawsuit this week in 4th District Court against the Utah Heritage Foundation in an effort to condemn the alleged historic easement that's preventing demolition of Academy Square.

"We've decided that negotiating is just not going to work," Mayor George Stewart said.In response, however, the Heritage Foundation filed a counter lawsuit Thursday in the same court in its continued drive to stop demolition plans. The foundation filed an earlier lawsuit in July in federal court in its first step to thwart the city's plans to tear down the historic block. The group says it has an easement preventing the buildings from being destroyed.

While the two parties continue to battle, a Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates shows that local residents are pretty much split on which side to take. Forty-five percent of those polled agree with Provo's plans to tear down the buildings, while 42 percent disagree with the redevelopment plans.

The poll of 401 Utah County residents, conducted between Dec. 5 and 10, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

The city purchased Academy Square in March for about $775,000. In June it signed an agreement that calls for the city to demolish the buildings and sell the property to Georgetown Development Co. for about $1 million. Georgetown plans to build an office, condominium, retail and hotel project on the block. The facade of the complex would be a replica of the square's main building constructed with the original brick.

The project was stopped, however, when the Heritage Foundation filed its federal lawsuit. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene issued an injunction halting demolition until the historic group has exhausted all local administrative and state court remedies to its easement claim.

After Greene issued the injunction, city building inspector Chuck Hugo issued an order in September declaring the buildings unsafe. City fire and police officials backed up his claim, and so did the Provo Appeals Board, which denied an appeal from the Heritage Foundation to reverse Hugo's order.

The city has been negotiating with the Heritage Foundation since, trying to agree on an amount to pay for the alleged easement. The city first offered $25,000 but later doubled that offer. Foundation officials, however, are not interested in money. They want the buildings spared.

Those supporting the Heritage Foundation's position say preservation should take precedence over any redevelopment plans. They say local officials have a moral obligation to protect the heritage of the historic buildings not only for those who attended school there but for future generations as well.

"If we destroy Academy Square, we send the message that money has precedence over our heritage, that all things are replaceable so get rid of the old," wrote Provo resident Susan Famulary in a letter to the Deseret News.

The poll shows that most who favor restoration are under the age of 35. Fifty-one percent of those over 50 favor demolition plans while 42 percent of those over 50 oppose demolition. Stewart said this shows that those familiar with the 20-year battle to save Academy Square better understand the issues. Those less familiar with Academy Square are simply jumping on the restoration bandwagon, he said.

The mayor also says that restoration was the city's first choice for Academy Square, but when the city asked for proposals in May no one stepped forward with a viable restoration plan. An offer from Texas developer Fred Lucas came after the city signed the agreement with Georgetown.

"Until the day we signed a contract with Georgetown, I preferred the restoration alternative. But we have a contract and the city will honor that contract," Stewart said.

The condemnation case must be decided within 60 days. If the city is successful, demolition of Academy Square could begin as soon as March. If the city loses the condemnation case, it will then challenge the validity of the historic easement. If the city loses all of its legal battles, Stewart said it would be at least two years before any further restoration offers are considered.



Utah County poll

Do you agree or disagree with Provo City's attempt to tear down and encourage redevelopment of Academy Square?



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Poll conducted Dec. 5-10, 1994. Margin of error +/-5% on interviews of 401 registered voters. Conducted by Dan Jones & Associates. Copyright 1994 Deseret News. Dan Jones & Associates, an independent organization founded in 1980, polls for the Deseret News and KSL. Its clients include other organizations and some political candidates.

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