Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>How city wiped out vet’s investment

IN SHORT: A veteran of Vietnam, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, Jim Eggert bought two commercial buildings in Jacksonville, but the closing of the Graham Road rail crossing killed business. He’s put his property up for sale, but he’ll have to take a huge loss.

Jim Eggert is a retired Air Force master sergeant who has served his country in Vietnam, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia and now works for Army Air Force Exchange Service in Japan.

He was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base and liked Jacksonville so much he bought a couple of small buildings with several business tenants near the railroad tracks at Graham Road.

He thought buying the buildings would be a solid investment, but this combat veteran is facing financial ruin because the city put up a barrier near his property when the Main Street overpass was built, destroying almost all commerce in the area.
The businesses, which had paid him rent so he could pay his mortgage, are gone, like almost every storefront on both sides of the tracks.

The neighborhood, long depressed, is now a lot worse off since the city diverted traffic away from Eggert’s buildings and closed the railroad crossing in 2003, chocking off traffic from the other side of the tracks.

This all happened while Eggert was serving overseas: When Jacksonville closed the railroad crossing, business dropped so sharply, he gave his tenants a break on the rent, but still they couldn’t hold on.

The laundromat is gone, and so is the catfish restaurant. Businesses around the corner in the other building he owns are also shut down. The gas station across the street went under in anticipation of the rail crossing being blocked off.
Eggert put up a for-sale sign, but he’ll probably take a big hit before he can stop the hemorrhaging: He’s asking $95,000 for the property, but he paid more than $125,000 for it.

The only offer he’s had on the buildings so far was for $60,000 from an investor who wants to use them for storage.
When Eggert first heard about the closing of the Graham Road rail crossing, “I was in Kosovo and assumed it would not last,” he said. “I voluntarily cut my tenants’ rent in half to help out, assuming this was a temporary issue.

“I put my sweat and tears into getting the property ready for tenants and have personally lost thousands of dollars in income, three good tenants and many, many good customers and friends,” Eggert recalled.

“My wife, my daughter with Down’s and myself ran the laundromat for eight months ourselves prior to our renting it out and met many friends in Jacksonville.

“I have had three years of combat tours in Vietnam and eight months in Saudi Arabia during my active service. Since working for AAFES, I also volunteered to serve the military again as a civilian in Kosovo and Macedonia and this last two years, ending in November 2006, I served in Tikrit in southern Iraq, Kirkuk Air Base in northeastern Iraq, Mosul Air Base in north Iraq and lastly at Forward Operation Base Spiker in northeastern Iraq.

“When I came home for a small vacation during my tour, I contacted the mayor’s office and was informed by his administrative assistant that he had, in fact, made a deal with the railroad and she felt the barrier was only a temporary measure.  

“This did not seem right, so I called over to the state attorney general’s office and was told that it was not their business but the mayor’s business and he would have to settle it. Great support from our so-called elected officials,” Eggert added bitterly.
He’d come across their kind of flippant attitude while traveling overseas. After all, it was only his life savings he was worried about, so why should that concern city officials?

“ I found their attitude similar to many socialist countries’ attitudes that I had visited during my military career — people in authority misusing that authority at will,” Eggert said.  “You can do whatever you please.”  
The city had not approached any of the businesses while they were still open to ask if officials could extend them a helping hand.
It’s as if Jacksonville doesn’t care if businesses thrive or not.
As far as he’s concerned, it’s like being mugged in church or assaulted in school.

It’s as if no one’s safe anywhere: You’d better watch out — a city will pick your pockets and put you out of business while you’re serving your country overseas.

It takes a special kind of bureaucratic folly to push all these businesses under and to financially ruin a combat veteran who has served his country with distinction.

“After my returning from Iraq this November, I noticed that the barrier was still there and very dusty from the years of standing there,” Eggert saids. “As I assumed this would be, as I stated, a temporary situation, I didn’t give it much thought. My company was transferring to Japan anyway, so I assumed the barrier would eventually be removed.  

“This was logical as the silly barrier served no purpose except to block off (newly widened First Street) and choke out all the minority business in that area.  

“I assumed again that this action was or should be illegal or in the very least irresponsible and surely wouldn’t be tolerated by our citizens.  My mistake. Surely this barrier is not for the good of anyone or any entity nor for the good of our Jacksonville or Arkansas citizens.

“Something needs to be done,” Eggert pleads, “to reverse this action for the good of not only myself and my family, but my Jacksonville family and friends.  It’s only fair.”

All good people should lend Eggert a hand, help him reopen the railroad crossing and tell him: Instead of letting the city wipe you out financially, we’ll help you get back on your feet — and, unlike the people who’ve tried to ruin you, thank you for serving your country as long as you have.