Demolition work has started on a commercial building on East Tyrone Road behind the popular Magic Wok restaurant. On Friday, an excavator had started demolishing the eastern part of the small shopping center. A demolition permit was reportedly issued this week.
In November, a city board ordered the building demolished within 30 days. The demolition order does not apply to the Magic Wok, which is in a separate diner on the western side of the building.
The building owners had previously considered preserving about 5,500 square feet in three units on the western side of the property, among a few options. But on Friday, Oak Ridge Community Development Housing Specialist Matt Widner said that portion won’t be preserved. Instead, the entire building will be demolished, Widner said.
Although the manufactured structure that houses the Magic Wok will remain for now, the restaurant won’t be able to operate without additional space for food storage. The owners haven’t announced their plans, and a sign that has been posted in a restaurant window for weeks said the Magic Wok is “closed for regrouping.” Widner said the city will wait for a plan.
Widner said the building slab will also be torn up, although the parking lot will remain. Part of the building once housed The Oak Ridger newspaper, and more recently, the shopping center housed a dry cleaner, thrift store, wig shop, Mexican grocery, and the Magic Wok’s food preparation and overflow dining areas.
The Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals issued a 30-day demolition order in a 6-0 vote in November.
On Friday, Widner said the building’s owners had to finish asbestos abatement before they could start demolition at the 1.74-acre, two-parcel site this week.
The board had previously given the building owners more time to develop a repair or demolition plan, including a five-month extension in June. During November’s meeting, board members suggested they hadn’t seen enough work take place since then.
City officials have said there have been ongoing issues at the building for a decade or more. Last year, the city staff said the partially occupied commercial structure had been declared unfit for human occupation or use because of code violations, and a demolition deadline had expired. The staff said the estimated cost of repairs exceeded 50 percent of the building’s value, which is an important benchmark for issuing a demolition order. The staff said the building was in a state of disrepair, lacked adequate fire and panic exits, and the roof and interior had not been adequately maintained for several years.
The issue actually involves two cases against the building, which is at 123 and 135 East Tyrone Road and just north of Oak Ridge Turnpike near Jackson Square.
In November, Jim Wang, who is one of the owners, said it wasn’t clear what the next step would be for the property owners. He said age is “catching up” with him and his wife Betty, who owns the Magic Wok.
At that time, they asked for another month to get a demolition permit and contract, and remove asbestos—and allow Magic Wok to stay in business a few more months.
But the city staff suggested the discussions with the Wangs had been circular, “starting from scratch” at every board meeting.
More information will be added as it becomes available.