College Station city officials were told the Cafe Eccell property was found "ransacked" when the new owners showed up Thursday to access the property.
The Eagle obtained an email sent to College Station City Manager Kelly Templin Thursday that said a team from Asset Plus, the Houston-based developers that purchased the property in January, showed up Thursday morning to begin discussing the demolition of the building for student housing. They found the interior of the building in disarray, the email said, with interior windowpanes, the HVAC system and the city's commemorative plaque marking it as a historical site missing.
Interior damage to the building of the former popular restaurant exposed asbestos at such a level that Asset Plus must now notify the state. Mark Lindley, senior vice president of construction with Asset Plus, told the city that no one will be allowed in the building unless they are wearing a hazmat suit, according to the email.
The disturbance of asbestos will bring construction on the property to a screeching halt. Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing lung disease, mesothelimoma and asbestosis.
"They're required by law to report that to the TCEQ, which will slow down work on the structure because everyone entering or dealing with it has to wear a hazmat suit," Templin said.
No police report has been filed, though the email to Templin concluded by stating that Asset Plus is considering filing one. The property now has a fence around it and tape on the building.
Asset Plus closed on the property's sale in January, but Cafe Eccell stayed open through March 8. Cafe Eccell was in the process of appealing an eviction suit to county court, and its owners had filed suits against Asset Plus and College Station to stop the sale of its property. Cafe Eccell and Asset Plus announced in late February that they had reached a confidential settlement to have the restaurant vacate the property.
Costa and Andreas Dallis co-owned the restaurant. Their attorney, Craig Greening, said they were out of the building by Tuesday night, and keys to the property were handed over to a representative of Asset Plus at Cafe Eccell on Wednesday afternoon. He said there was no walk through done at the time the keys were exchanged.
Greening said the brothers removed the pizza oven from the front of the restaurant. He said he did not know about the AC units being removed and did not see windows removed when he drove by the restaurant Wednesday evening.
"What was removed from Cafe Eccell was expressly provided for in the confidential settlement agreement," Greening said in a statement.
The Dallis brothers would not respond for comment due to the possibility of a police report being filed, Greening said. He said he learned of the state of the restaurant from The Eagle on Friday.
Representatives from Asset Plus did not return requests for comment on Friday afternoon.
College Station owned the building before Asset Plus, and the site was the city's first city hall. Mayor Nancy Berry had previously expressed interest in keeping the plaque on Asset Plus' new development to mark the site as historical.
According to the lease between College Station and Cafe Eccell -- which transferred to Asset Plus with the sale -- any physical additions, alterations or improvements to the premises made by Cafe Eccell will become property of the owner, except trade fixtures, shelving, counters or other appliances.