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Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS - On a quiet Central City corner sits a shuttered old building with a wealth of history.

A 130-year-old landmark, once a store at the corner of Baronne and Clio, has long been vacant. It is situated in an area plagued by blight yet ripe for development, said the business partners who purchased the property in a tax sale.

Martha Irwin said she and her business partner want to finish restoring it, but a sweeping legal road block has made that all but impossible.

'There's no point in our putting anymore money in it except for maintaining it until we know what our situation is,' said Irwin.

The property was dilapidated and decaying when Irwin and her business partner bought it in a tax sale nearly 10 years ago. They've poured more than $300,000 into fixing it up.

But a state law passed in 2009 makes it possible for an original owner to redeem a property without fully reimbursing the tax sale purchaser for the cost of renovation.

It's the reason renovations at the corner of Baronne and Clio ground to a halt. Irwin doesn't know if she'll be fully reimbursed, or in the end, even own the property.

'We don't know how it's going to come out,' said Irwin.

And that's why the site made the list of New Orleans' nine most endangered, put together by the Louisiana Landmarks Society.

'They're the representative sample of the sad things that go on in our community,' said John Schackai, of the Louisiana Landmark Society.

The group fears the change in law will deter people from buying blighted homes in tax sales with the intent to restore them throughout the city.

'There are no laws right now that will allow someone to go to a tax sale buy the property, and repair it and get his money back,' said Schackai. 'That just is going to foster demolition.'

Meanwhile, Irwin said, as the legal paperwork continues to pile up, she'll continue fighting the battle to determine ownership and hopes eventually to complete the work she and her partner started.

'It's very frustrating to have been in this for all these years and we can't get any kind of settlement,' said Schackai.

Eyewitness News was unable to get in touch with the previous owner. Meanwhile, the Louisiana Landmark Society says it hopes city officials will lobby the legislature to change the law.

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