Thursday, June 13, 2024

Surf City business owner returned after Florence to find building padlocked and condemned, despite minimal damage

The town of Surf City removed air-conditioners and padlocked the building, without permission, despite animals still being inside the Ecological Marine Adventures building. The town has so far declined to answer questions about why this happened -- despite the fact that they appear to be legally responsible for repairs to the building.

SURF CITY — At a special town emergency meeting Wednesday evening, the owners of Ecological Marine Adventures asked council members to explain the city’s decision to condemn their place of business as unfit for habitation, when after seven days of mandatory evacuation they returned and saw “little damage the building actually had sustained.”

In a letter presented to the council, owner Taylor Maready said Town Manager Ashley Loftis had informed him through text messages that the building was marked condemned because the roof had come off, allowing a significant amount of water to enter, and the building was “full of black mold.”

Two days later on September 19th, when Surf City residents were allowed to re-enter Topsail Island, Maready was relieved and surprised to see that damages were less extensive than they were told: although a portion of the roof needed replacement, there was no standing water and minimal mold damage, he said.

RELATED: Surf City still keeping Topsail Island closed to the general public

“What was even more surprising is that Town Employees, without permission or consent, had entered into our building before we could assess our own damages and removed the portable AC units, leaving our windows wide open and thousands of dollars worth of equipment susceptible to the elements and looters,” Maready said to council members. 

Maready said that an employee from the NC DOT, which uses the other half of the building and is only separated from EMA by a single wall, told him that he had allowed city employees to come into EMA’s side of the building and remove the air conditioning units. Maready also said that although the NC DOT office received similar damages, to a slightly lesser extent, their side of the building was not condemned.

A week later, when Maready attempted to enter the building to feed EMA’s marine animals and assess damages with an insurance adjustor, he found the front door padlocked.

“Once again, no notice, no communication, no letter, no call; nothing. Just a padlock on our door with all of our animals inside that needed to be fed,” Maready said last Thursday.

Ecological Marine Adventures owner Taylor Maready. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy of EMA)
Ecological Marine Adventures owner Taylor Maready. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy of EMA)

Maready and his wife Amber, who runs the kids’ educational facility alongside her husband, also raised to the council the issue of a recently negotiated 3-year lease with the town. The contract requires the town to pay for “repairs and replacements to the Building and any component of the Building” along with the provision, repair, replacement and maintenance of ventilation and air conditioning equipment.

According to Maready, after extensive efforts to receive answers from the town including a hand-delivered letter to Mayor Doug Medlin and town council members, no explanation has yet been given of why the building was condemned, who authorized the removal of the air conditioning units and when they will be returned, whether the town will withhold their contractual responsibilities, and who issued the order to place a padlock on EMA’s front door.

When these questions were addressed to Loftis by Port City Daily on Friday afternoon, she responded by email that “at this time I cannot respond to these [questions].”

“We said that we would love to see records and tests, a letter from the inspector or engineer who looked at this building to condemn it as unsafe for the public,” Maready said. “Unfortunately they never gave us that report, and still to this day they have not given us that report.”

Maready estimates that EMA is losing approximately $2,000 each week it remains closed. Additionally, mold has now grown onto all of the floor mats and two aquarium tanks — approximately $1,000 worth of damage, he said.

“These are things that, if we were able to place tarps on the roof and have air conditioning running — if things were done correctly — this stuff wouldn’t have happened,” Maready said. 

As Maready finished his address to the council, he said that upon review of the lease with an attorney, they “will be forced to pursue a legal remedy” unless EMA and the town can come to an agreement.

“With all due respect, and in a spirit of genuine partnership, I want you to know that we won’t be going away. This issue is not going away. EMA is not going away. If this Council’s actions make it necessary, we will pursue every avenue to save our business, bring to light the injustices perpetrated against our business, and seek financial remedy. But that’s a road none of us wants to travel. So, I beg you, I plead with you, I implore you to course correct before this thing goes any further down this path — to right these wrongs, and to move forward in good faith to honor the commitments the Town has made to EMA,” Maready concluded. 

Taylor and Amber Maready’s address to Surf City town council members Wednesday evening:

Related Articles