It's easy to get into a hissing contest over who should have done what in the days, weeks and years leading up to the partial collapse of the Brown Block yesterday morning.
But one thing is clear -- the building was unsafe and should have been demolished or made stable some time ago.
While we're sorry for the owners of the vehicles crushed by the century-old falling brick and mortar, we're relieved that nobody was in them when the collapse occurred.
There also easily could have been some squatters inside the building, as the access points weren't always secured.
And even an untrained eye could have seen for some time now there were loose bricks on the front of the complex of buildings, which once housed a bowling alley, several shops and upstairs apartments.
Pedestrians at any time could have been seriously injured or killed if bits of the facade had started to fall away.
So why did it have to come to the point where the building itself had to tell us it was time for it to go?
Where were our elected leaders and civic officials? Where were the owners of the property, which has changed hands a last twice in recent times?
Even folks who appreciate old buildings and call for their restoration had long ago given up on the Brown Block. It stood only as a decaying, boarded-up, pigeon-infested symbol of downtown Brandon's decay.
For year, after year, after year.
While other properties on the historic street were sold, remodelled and leased out, the Brown Block remained in a state of decay.
As ongoing efforts to convert the abandoned Strand Theatre into a multi-use performing arts centre next door to the Brown Block began (and continue to this day), the eyesore immediately to the south was ignored by its owners.
While volunteers from the Brandon Folk, Music and Arts Society had an engineer declare the Strand structurally sound -- and continue their work to keep it dry and secure -- the Brown Block creaked and crumbled next door.
We have to wonder why something wasn't done to protect the public from this inevitable collapse -- especially after a winter with a very heavy snowfall, now starting to melt.
In his failed bid for re-election last fall, former mayor Dave Burgess promised to tear down the Brown Block and find a "positive new development" to replace it.
But Burgess lost the election and the Brown Block remained untouched.
In this year's budget, hammered out by the new mayor and council in January, the most substantial budget add-on saw $250,000 to the city's property reserve for the potential purchase of several downtown properties.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said the Brown Block was a potential purchase, with the building then to be demolished. However, the budget has yet to be formally passed.
If the owners were waiting for the city to buy them out while not doing anything to stabilize the rickety old building, then they were being poor corporate citizens and being reckless with the safety of the community.
That's the sad side of capitalism.
But that's exactly why we have city bylaws in place that protect us from having derelict buildings fall on people and their property.
So where were the city inspectors? Why hadn't the building been condemned and the owners forced to knock it down years ago?
While Decter Hirst has pinned the blame on the owners of the property for allowing it to go to ruin, we count on city officials, armed with their thick books of bylaws, to keep us free from harm.
If the primary responsibility of any government first and foremost is to keep its people safe, why was this clearly dangerous building allowed to stand so long?
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 16, 2011 A9