By Lyra Bordelon
A communication breakdown during the fight to save two side-by-side buildings could result in neither project being completed in downtown Ronceverte. The Rudy’s restoration project, headed by Chris and Jorge Rodriguez-Stanley, is currently paused pending the successful repair of a wall between it and the neighboring building.
The Rodriguez-Stanleys announced the project’s halt on social media last week to ample attention, hoping to find a way to resolve the issue.
Between Rudy’s and the building next door, known as the Rexall building, sits a small alleyway. The Rexall wall has collapsed, leaving the inside of the building visible, the chimney bowing, and a tree growing out from between the loose bricks. Part of the collapse also damaged water runoff drainage from the roof, leading to water pouring into the alley and onto both buildings. The result is water and mold in the connected basements, structural and foundational damage to the Rudy’s building, and ample visible damage to the Rexall building.
As of February, a drainage pipe has been added to divert water runoff out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. However, water has already opened a hole directly into the shared Rudy’s and Rexall basement, with a layer of mud, water, and slime coating the floor. Chris Rodriguez-Stanley noted foundational and wall repairs, as well as mold removal, were within their renovation budget, but worried repairs would only be temporary.
The building next door is owned by Tammy Dotson Rhodes, director of the Ronceverte Development Corporation, and James C. Maddox, Jr. According to the deed, the property was transferred for the “total consideration” of “less than one hundred dollars” in August 2019.
In November 2019, Historic Preservation Consultant Michael Gioulis visited the building, writing “this wall is in seriously bad condition. The roof slopes back to this wall. … The roof should be replaced and downspouts added. … The contractor said that is what he thinks happened – he said there was downspout on this building and it is gone. That is what caused the whole problem.”
Gioulis emphasized the wall needed more work, adding photos to the report.
“If you can get emergency money to fix the back wall and then apply for Culture and History money to do something else because there is a lot more than the back wall,” Gioulis wrote in 2019. “The timing would work. You need something quicker for the back wall. The back wall needs to be stabilized so you can buy some time.”
According to the Rodriguez-Stanley’s, corroborated by emails exchanged between the parties, the couple expected the Rexall wall to be fixed around the end of November 2020, allowing them to begin removing mold and making foundational repairs.
“Just following up again about the water issue,” reads an email from Jorge on Nov. 26. “There was some rain last night so more water got into our basement from your building. We need to know your plans to stop the damage. We have sent multiple emails and you keep disregarding the issue. We need know how you will keep the water from entering our basement and ensure that it is your top priority as it’s a liability to our property.”
According to the couple, there has been no further communication since November. In addition to wanting to deal with issues with the deeds for the two buildings, they emphasized that saving the buildings was a priority, but worried about both being condemned if inspected by the city.
In an email exchange with the Mountain Messenger last week, Dotson-Rhodes noted she “had to get an attorney” about the situation and was not able to comment.
“They have not been honest and forthcoming with many details,” wrote Rhodes.
Chris Rodriguez-Stanley is critical of lack of communication between the parties, saying “while we know that the city and the RDC want our project to be here and for it to succeed, the RDC has a conflict of interest with someone who works against the goals of the RDC while working as an employee and board member of the RDC.”
Although Rhodes is the director of the RDC, RDC President and Ronceverte City Councilmember Kathy King noted the nonprofit organization does not have power to intervene between private parties and hoped both buildings could be saved.
“They’re both historic, I call them good bones buildings,” King said. “They’ve got good internal structure. “We can refer, contact WVU for engineering grants, the historic grant people in Charleston. We’re a nonprofit organization, we don’t really have any powers as board except to do what we do – promote and encourage businesses downtown.”
King encouraged the continuing renovations to both the Rexall and Rudy’s buildings.
“Right now RDC is working on this greenspace where we brought down two condemned properties that were uninhabitable to live in,” King said. “We’re all about renovating and restoration and when the opportunity comes to us to get a USDA grant, we go after it. But when it’s two private properties, we don’t have any powers. … Those have been two buildings in dire need for a number of years. Hopefully the two parties can move on with what the issue is and move on with their projects.”
She also spoke of another, high-profile example of a Ronceverte building that is in need of saving.
“We’ve seen what happened to the old theater,” King explained. “It was in private hands, … and we attempted for several years to obtain it. We could get grants for old theaters, but the private owner just held on to it. He passed away and it gets left to his estate and from it estate it was purchased by an out of state person and there it sits. And [the RDC] can’t do anything about it. … The city was attempting for the same purpose, but that particular private owner wouldn’t let it go. … That’s what we don’t want to happen, a private party to get ahold of it and not do anything with it.”
Regardless as to if the issue is resolved in or outside of court, the hold could keep the project from moving forward. Because of the nature of Chris Rodriguez-Stanley’s work, the couple might have to pause the project to return to Los Angeles as vaccines begin the curtailing of the COVID-19 pandemic. The now-months long delay in dealing with the foundational and basement issues could have entirely set back the renovations.
“Our goal was and still is to revitalize a piece of this town with our project and it’s been frustrating to be held up because of a neighboring building,” Jorge Rodriguez-Stanley said. “We love this community and want to help bring it back to its former glory but leadership here needs to clean house and have a reckoning. There is a conflict of interest here that is preventing development and it’s sad that the town is paying the consequences. We still believe in Ronceverte and many of the people working for the city and who live here have been our biggest cheerleaders. They want to see change and we want to help make that happen.”