Burn Out

In April, Bruhn Building owner Gerry Kehoe was fined twice by the city of Salinas for not moving fast enough with the cleanup of debris and asbestos. Combined, the fines totaled $300.

Last month, Salinas police officers responding to a fight in Oldtown Salinas slowly drove past a green light at the intersection of South Main and West Alisal streets when a driver sped through a red light and slammed into the side of the police car. The crash was captured on video and posted on social media with the headline, “Nothing good comes out of drinking and driving.”

While alcohol was a factor in this collision, according to police, Mayor Joe Gunter believes the fence surrounding the burned Dick Bruhn building at that intersection contributed to the crash because it obstructed the officers’ vision.

But the fence is necessary at this point, at least until the building is deemed safe again by an engineer since bits of structure could easily fall onto the sidewalk. As for the fence blocking the alleyway, which doubles as a driveway for Main Street businesses, Gerry Kehoe, the building’s owner, says he expects it to be gone by the end of October.

At the moment, Kehoe says workers are cleaning up the guts of the building to make it safe for an engineer to come in and do an inspection. The engineer would then decide whether the building should be knocked down or kept in place.

By the time cleanup is done, the city expects 150 tons of asbestos waste, 57 tons of debris and 25 tons of metals to have been removed from the building. Additional asbestos may need to be removed in the rebuilding process.

However, the city can’t force Kehoe to rebuild. Joseph DeSante, Salinas’ Permit Center manager, says the empty building could stand there indefinitely once it is deemed safe because there is nothing in the city’s code that would require Kehoe to do something with it. “He just has to make it safe,” DeSante adds.

For Kehoe, though, the “most prudent course of action” – and financially beneficial – would be to build anew.

“We are reviewing plans to remodel the interior as a combination hotel with elegant townhomes and apartments with some retail and restaurant facilities to bring economic vibrancy and elegance to Oldtown Salinas,” Kehoe writes by email.

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He estimates demolition and building anew would cost $620,000 – or $55,000 less than restoration of the facade. But he intends to restore the historic building: “As a family who has restored historic buildings on two continents, we want to do the best for this extremely important heritage property,” Kehoe adds.

The county assessor estimates the structure to be worth $510,000. Before the Feb. 13 fire, its value was estimated at $2 million.

While the building is not for sale, Gunter says there has been interest from Bruce Taylor and another unidentified person to purchase it. Gunter adds he would like the city to press for a transfer of the building to new owners because of Kehoe’s “missteps,” which include an ongoing Monterey County District Attorney’s Office investigation into the possible illegal removal and dumping of asbestos.

“There will come a time when we have to take legal action,” Gunter says. “Personally, I think that should have happened already.”

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