Hotel announcement possible this week

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- City officials are expecting to hear, as early as this week, whether the federal government will fork over $16 million in stimulus dollars to rehabilitate the former Heritage House hotel.

Developer Romeo Comeau petitioned the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for stimulus funds through the city of Albany's Department of Community Development in September, in hopes of gathering enough funds to fully redevelop the property which has been lying abandoned and dilapidated for years.

HUD officials have put city officials on notice that an announcement could come this week.

"I spoke with the HUD officials and they think they'll be some announcement this week," Community and Economic Development Director Latoya Cutts said. "So we're hopeful to hear something soon."

The city is essentially the pass-through agency for the stimulus funds, Cutts said. City officials were initially told that the grant would be awarded by December at the latest, but Cutts believes that because of size and number of the applications involved, the process was delayed.

"You can imagine that, with the minimum amount for these grants being $5 million, that there were a lot of people fighting for that money, so it's probably a good bet to think that there was a lot of paperwork to go through."

Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said that the city hasn't received any confirmation outside of the receipt of the application materials, about the project, but that some of the initial applications that didn't make the cut have already been rejected.

"That may be a good sign, we just don't know at this point," Smith said. "But our app is still in the running, we think."

Despite its value and the potential upside to having the city's biggest eyesore repaired, the development has not been without its criticisms.

Comeau and the project's architect, John Rivers, are currently the recipients of several liens against various other properties outside of Dougherty County.

Commissioner Bob Langstaff expressed concern over Comeau in his blog as the application for the money was being made.

"Several commissioners expressed concern about the above project at the least (sic) board meeting. I received some information that concerned me. Before (the) staff spends anymore time with the project, I request that some due diligence be conducted into the backgrounds and experience of the architect, the owner and the holding company," Langstaff wrote.

The development will build 90 new low-to-moderate income rental units on the property as well as a new 70-unit structure for the elderly on an adjacent property.

If the money doesn't come through, it wouldn't necessarily kill chances of development, although city officials said it would likely cost $1 million to demolish the structure and convert it to a park or greenspace.