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Heritage House demolition begins

For years the Heritage House has been little more than a shell — literally — of its former self.

Once one of Albany’s most popular convention centers, for the past several years the Heritage House has been little more than a harbor for drug dealers and prostitutes, devaluing nearby properties and creating a public health hazard and an eyesore to passers-by.

While many long-time Albanians have fond memories of the facility as it operated in its heyday, that is exactly what the building had been regulated to — a distant memory. Plan after plan for revitalizing the facility flopped as the structure became more and more ruined.

Finally, a Superior Court decision that facility was valueless and a public health concern placed the Heritage House on the pathway to demolition. When its owner did not try to reacquire the hotel by Wednesday, the door was opened for the city to step in and take action that was long overdue.

On Thursday, crews with Oxford Construction, which is now the building’s owner after buying the deeds as part of its deal with the city, began to prep the dilapidated structure on West Oglethorpe Boulevard near Slappey Boulevard with plastic sheeting so that asbestos would be contained as the building was razed. The presence of the carcinogen in the building is a reason why the razing is so expensive, since it requires specialized demolition work to prevent cancer-causing fibers from getting into the air.

Estimates are that this demolition will be complete by Sept. 30. The city has agreed to buy the property from Oxford for $1.1 million provided the project is completed by Oct. 15. City officials then hope to sell the vacant property to a private developer, with City Manager James Taylor saying inquiries on the property have already begun.

It’s been clear from the beginning that this would be an expensive project — topping $1 million — but one that was also in the best interests of the city. It’s unfortunate that the demolition dragged out so long, which seldom makes the work cheaper once it’s finally done.

We hope the city will be able to mitigate the taxpayer expense through the sale of the property, but this is something that simply needed to be done. If nothing else, it is addition by subtraction.

Comments

whattheheck 2 years, 1 month ago

I totally support take down of the Heritage House. Although not happy with the taxpayer expense, it had to go. Having said that, are we embarking on an unwise course of action? What is the City's policy on who should pay for removing blighted property? With much to do, there needs to be a set of basic ground rules not evident based on actions taken. .

The Pritchett building was taken down in a private transaction between Ameris Bank and Oxford. No court battles, Ameris ate the cost. Along comes the HH with its legal problems, partly attributed as I see it, to the City's attempt to "partner" with its owner to get $16 million to turn it into more low rent housing--he clung to a false hope. .

It was an absolute legal nightmare hopefully now over.but in the process of resolution, the City becomes the new owner when all is said and done. But ownership of the problem was really vested with Capitol City Bank who foreclosed on it earlier as I read the documents. Adding to the problem, grouped into the package is four parcels with blighted houses all owned by Capitol City through foreclosure from Romeo Comeau, the principal in Greenbrier Holding.

These four parcels are located behind the HH, three on Highland, one on Van Buren. Clearly, Capitol City made a bad loan and accepted these as security. With these becoming part of the demo, Capitol City is avoiding the cost of blight removal by selling to Oxford who in turn will sell to the City for possible sale to a developer.

It seems we now have set a policy that the City will clean up the mess belonging to those who have the ability to pay and should pay. When one bank accepts the responsibility for a deal gone bad and the City pays the tab for another bank, it is a defacto bailout. What is the course for the future now in terms of blight removal?

Capitol City now owns the blighted Broad Ave school obtained from Comeau in the same manner. Will we pay to tear it down too? If the City has a policy on blight removal, what is it? If it doesn't, it is high time to develop one.

It should be mentioned, since no one has, that there is one parcel of land with an owner occupied house on Highland behind the HH that may be in the middle of this "package" we plan to peddle to a developer. The City, Capitol City, and Oxford don't own it, so what is its impact on the package that developers are knocking on Jim Taylor's door about? And based on the effort the City put into its attempt to partner with Greenbrier earlier, our priority project for that year, are we to become part of another development attempt at this same site?

So many questions, so few answers. Although all should be glad the wicked witch is dead, don't we need to know more about how she was killed and what we do after she is buried?

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J.D._Sumner 2 years, 1 month ago

Valid points whattheheck. I thought you and most of Albany knew the legal basis for blight removal, but I'll explain what I know to the degree I can.

The policy is as follows: code enforcements cites the owner. After a period of time if the fine isnt paid or the work isnt completed or the owner challenges, it goes to court. If a judge or jury find the property "to be a detriment to the human safety and welfare, a demo order is issued. If the owner then doesnt tear it down or fix it, the city does and puts a lien on the property which often doesnt get paid but allows the city to avoid ownership.

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whattheheck 2 years, 1 month ago

Good to know, JD, and I appreciate it. However, please note the "legal process" and the "process used" is not always the same thing. Was this the legal process followed on the Highland properties Capitol City owned that got dumped into the package? I don't think so but why was it not followed?

And in the case of the HH itself, the city is still winding up with the property--it was not avoided in this instance. Jim Taylor indicates developers are interested in the property and hopefully it will be an income producer not more subsidized housing or non-taxable property. The neighborhood is not "choice" by any stretch of the imagination which is one of the problems the HH had from what I heard years ago--and from staying there myself. HH customers were getting robbed in the parking lot and their rooms which certainly doesn't make those who fill up our motels want to stay there. Crime is even worse now so developers will tread lightly.

But make no mistake: While I am happy to see it gone, I am one of those who does not always support the end result justifying the means by which it is done.

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benh1936 2 years, 1 month ago

They were indeed getting robbed all the time. That was many years ago and the area has gotten much worse. We will be stuck with a huge vacant lot there because no one with any sense will want to build on that site. Maybe if unneeded multi model center gets built by the train tracks the "dray line" can set up shop where the HH was.Lovely burn barrel and port-o-potty included.

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whattheheck 2 years, 1 month ago

Bingo! Let's put the multi modal there. Tough for the planes and trains to reach but should work for buses and taxis.

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