After years of standing empty and neglected, and the center of a feud between owners and Inverness officials calling it a blight, the excavator made quick demolition work Wednesday, April 14, of the remnants of what many still called Manning’s Bar.
After one last 30-day warning by the city of Inverness to the owner to bring into compliance the dilapidated building on State Road 44, a demolition team was at the site before 9 a.m. Wednesday. Within minutes, the structure, whose roof had already caved in during the past few months, was a pile of rubble.
“I think the community was owed the opportunity to be (blight free) after all the opportunities were given to the owners,” City Manager Eric Williams told the Chronicle as the aged building was torn down.
The city has invested millions of dollars into infrastructure projects and its downtown but the owners were “staunch in not doing anything,” Williams said.
The city focused in earnest on the Manning’s building during the past two years, sending the case to its code enforcement. Williams said that despite several attempts, the owners, Milton and Nadeen KongQuee, of Hernando, failed to comply.
The city’s previous administration reported that liens on the property, including from the Internal Revenue Service, tied the city’s hands when it came to demolition. The city began contacting the KongQuees in 2016 demanding the couple get the building in compliance.
But Williams said he made the issue a priority and took an aggression approach in solving the problem. The city’s lawyer also told council members last month that given the dilapidated and unsafe state of the building, the city had the right to demolish it.
The IRS placed several liens on the property dating back to 2007 for unpaid federal taxes.
Williams told the Chronicle the property on State Road 44 next to a vehicle repair shop was a “desirable piece of property” and in the “gateway into the city” and in its dilapidated state was not reflective of the other properties in the area.
The bar closed about 35 years ago, but many know the building by its old Manning name.
Last week, council members complained they were concerned the deteriorating building was dangerous and could attract children who could get hurt. The building had no door and most of the windows were broken. The council voted 4-0 to demolish the building.
But in the 11th hour, Milton KongQuee made one more effort to keep the building standing.
In a March 29, 2021, letter to the city’s Community Development Department, KongQuee wrote that the building was not unsafe. The letter was addressed to the Jimmy Strickland, who inspected the building.
“First, I do not give permission to demolish this structure as the structure is not unsafe and will be completed to operate a business within two to three years,” he wrote.
KongQuee also took umbrage at the city’s description of the property as damaged, decayed, dilapidated, unsanitary, unsafe and vermin-infested. In his letter, KongQuee said the property was none of those things.
“The structure is not unsafe. The structure is a shell of a new construction, building blocks,” he wrote.
“The structure does not create a serious hazard to the health or safety of the occupant or the public. Since there is no occupant and this is a private property with no trespassing,” he wrote. “Then you would agree that your statement is words made up to sound good and not based on any facts.”
Manning’s Bar is a far cry from the way Michael Manning remembers the business as teenager.
“It was a gas station when my parents first bought it,” the retired New York City police detective told the Chronicle in 2019. "A Sunoco.”
“They had it a couple of years ... but with the gas prices, they weren’t making any money. So, they decided to make it into a bar,” he said. “It was a beer and wine establishment. Not hard liquor. That was about 1981.
“I remember they (my parents) had a good nighttime crowd,” he said.
When Michael Manning’s parents moved back north in about 1986, they closed the bar and his uncle used it for storage.
Manning’s father died 23 years ago and his mother in 2014.
Manning remembers working at his parents' business when it was a gas station and sweeping up and washing windows when it was a bar.
He hasn’t seen the building since the family moved.
When told it was falling down, Manning said he was surprised, but admits he remembers it as it used to be.
The KongQuees listed the building for sale two years ago through Realtor Doreen Palmiero-Kucej, but no one bought the property.
Despite being dilapidated, Palmiero thought at the time the building still had potential.
“The positive is the location. It’s at a very busy intersection (at S.R. 44 and Independence Highway),” Palmiero said told the Chronicle in 2019
The cost to the city to demolish the building and haul way the debris was $6,000.