ALBANY, Ga. -- The City of Albany's quest to demolish the former Heritage House Hotel building took an abrupt turn Wednesday after a Herald investigation revealed that $14,000 in unpaid taxes and fees on the blighted property have landed it on the auction block in as a part of a tax sale.
The hotel has become the face of the city's revamped anti-blight initiative, which has led to the demolition of vacant and dilapidated housing across the city.
It has also become that initiative's biggest challenge, thanks to a few changes in ownership, lien filings and the apparent inaction of its owners. The eyesore that jump-started the program remains upright along one of the city's most well-traveled arteries.
But a tax obligation neglected by current owner Greenbriar Holdings may have just knocked down one of the city's biggest hurdles is razing the structure by allowing the county's tax department to put the building on the auction block as part of a tax sale.
According to Dougherty County Tax Director Denver Hooten and Gail Johnson, who is handling the sale for the tax department, a total of $14,123.51 in taxes and fees is owed on the property at 732 West Oglethorpe Blvd. will be collected during an auction on the courthouse steps Aug. 3.
An ad listing all of the properties to be sold will run in The Herald beginning July 6.
The sale could allow the city to obtain the property on the cheap. Given that demolition prices have been estimated anywhere between $400,000 and $1.2 million, the cost to develop the property into a viable site may discourage private business owners from bidding on the property, which may allow the city to obtain it.
Assistant City Manager Wes Smith, who was with other city department heads on a retreat Wednesday, said that he was unaware that the property would be put on the auction block but said that the city fully intends to research the matter.
"I find your information interesting," Smith said. "When we get back we'll begin researching the matter to see what, if any, part of the city's ongoing plan for the property will be affected and make a determination."
There is at least one lien on the property, according to tax records.
Capitol City Bank currently has a security deed on the property for $306,000 that would have to be addressed by whomever purchases the property at the tax sale. A second lien from Capitol City Bank for $133,000 may have been dismissed in lieu of some type of payment, although that couldn't be verified with bank officials Wednesday.
Meantime, City Manager Alfred Lott told commissioners that it was the legal opinion of both City Attorney Nathan Davis and County Attorney Spencer Lee that the demolition costs for the Heritage House and other blighted property could not be funded through the upcoming special one-percent sales tax referendum.
"Well projects have to be a capital improvement and since, in essence, the city would be demolishing and improving the property of a private citizen, sales tax dollars can't be spent on that particular item," Davis said.
The city could demolish any property that its owns or that is in conjunction with another capital improvement project, but private property is off limits.