ALBANY, Ga. -- Calling it a danger to the public safety and welfare, Municipal Court Judge Willie Weaver on Wednesday ordered the owners of the former Heritage House Hotel to bring the structure to the ground.
Following a three-hour hearing in municipal court, Weaver said he had found that the building at 732 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. was "dilapidated and unsanitary" and is a "danger to the public health, safety and welfare."
And, despite a plea from Alex Kaplan, the attorney representing the owner of the property, Greenbriar Holdings LLC, to have 270 days to bring the massive structure down, Weaver ordered that Greenbriar demolish the structure within 121 days or let the city of Albany take care of it.
During the hearing, City Attorney Nathan Davis called three witnesses to the stand to testify on the city's behalf: Code Enforcement officer Robert Carter, City of Albany Civil Engineer John Hudgens and appraiser Horace Carter.
Robert Carter testified that the once grand structure had become a house of horrors, filled with used condoms, cracking walls, damaged ceiling tiles and drug paraphernalia.
During both direct and cross-examination, the officer testified that, in its current state, the building violates multiple city and building codes.
Horace Carter, a licensed appraiser and real estate broker hired by the city to evaluate and appraise the property, testified that he believed that the property -- including the real property and the structure -- was worth no more than $670,800 but would likely cost upwards of $10 million to repair.
Even that estimate, he said, was "actually likely to be on the low side."
Carter said that rehabilitation efforts would be complicated by the asbestos that was used in the construction of the building, which would likely drive costs up.
Hudgens testified that, utilizing software widely used in the engineering and appraisal industry, the cost to bring the structure up to code to the point where it could be used as a hotel would likely approach $19 million.
The city has been trying for years to work with the various owners of the hotel to try and convert it into a usable property again, but those efforts appeared to be dashed permanently when an effort by the current owner to get federal stimulus funding to turn the property into apartments last year fell through.
Since that time, the city has pursued condemnation and demolition proceedings against Greenbriar and its principal -- Romeo Como -- in hopes of creating a "clean slate for development."
Should the city have to step in and take over demolition of the structure, city officials have estimated the cost to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 million.
The city would then put a lien on the property for the amount of demolition, but given that Capitol City Bank has first lien position on existing loans issued on the property, it would be unlikely that the city would get its money back, Assistant City Manager James Taylor told the Herald Wednesday.