Hotel battle may end soon

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Commissioners got some good news and bad news about the former Heritage House Hotel site Tuesday.

The good news, according to city officials, is that its end appears inevitable. The bad news? It won't be cheap.

Commissioners learned Tuesday of some preliminary options the government has to finally put the 42-year-old blighted structure down and none of them, according to City Manager Alfred Lott, will be cheap.

A free-standing mess of exposed steel girders, wiring and asbestos, the 4-acre site has become the personification of the renewed anti-blight initiatives taken on by the city.

But after years of delays, failed development projects, buyouts and foreclosures, the hotel and a few accompanying parcels now could be within a few months of a final date with the wrecking ball.

Before the commission are several options, Interim Downtown Manager James Taylor told city leaders Tuesday.

Each have their pros and cons.

The city could take the same position on the Heritage House as they have on other blighted properties and take the owner, Romeo Comeau, to court to pave the way for demolition. Following the demolition, the city would then place a lien for the cost of the demo work on the property, which would have to be paid before it could be sold.

The problem, according to Taylor, is that the cost of demolition -- estimated to be between $825,000 and $1.6 million -- would exceed the value of the property, meaning the city would likely never recover the money spent on the project.

Another option involves the city exercising its eminent domain authority to seize the property and then demolishing it.

While this course of action could be fairly easy and quick to do, it would be more costly than the first option because the city would have to pay Comeau fair market value on the property on top of the demolition costs. Additionally, the city would be limited to only certain uses of the site under law which could include a park or holding pond or other facility for public use.

That would strip the property off the tax rolls and provide little in the way of economic development.

A third option would be to negotiate with Comeau for the property and buy it outright. The city could then demolish it, clear the land and sell the property to a developer.

While expensive -- the city would still have to fork over the money for the demolition plus whatever price the two parties could haggle out -- it would allow the city to recover some of the money used and would keep the site on the tax digest which would generate tax revenue as a part of the Tax Allocation District.

Taylor told the commission that informal discussions had taken place and that Comeau had given a verbal figure on the property, but declined to disclose the amount until the commission decides what course of action to take.

Regardless of the course, all appear costly, Lott said.

"There's not going to be an option where we don't have to shell out money to take care of their error," Lott said, "... we're going to have to pay one way or the other."

Lott and city staff are working to have a firm resolution on the Heritage House problem by the first of July. A more comprehensive report is expected next month.