August 13, 2011 in City

Vestal: Ridpath figure likes to follow his own rules

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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It’s a beautiful bike.

The 1947 Indian Motorcycle sits – or possibly sat – in the fancy downtown condo owned by developer Greg Jeffreys, the man at the center of the mess at the Ridpath Hotel. It’s a spectacular piece of gleaming nostalgia, and Jeffreys displayed it like a work of art. A $37,000 piece of art.

Which sounds like a lot of money, until you realize how much Jeffreys owes to other people.

Jeffreys lost the bike two weeks ago when a judge ordered it seized and turned over to a bank to which Jeffreys has defaulted on some $1.8 million in debts. Not long after, the judge ordered a half-million-dollar piece of medical equipment turned over, as well. Jeffreys has also lost a $1.3 million judgment in another case, and is fighting allegations that he improperly “converted” a government payment owed to his lender and distributed it to others, including friends and family. And now he has declared that he will no longer work on fixing code violations at the Ridpath, until the city revokes the fees it has assessed him for failing to fix code violations.

It has been a difficult time for Jeffreys, and because he owns key parcels of the hotel, including control of water, electricity and other infrastructure – and because he seems unlikely to cooperate with the other owners – his growing problems infect the future of the whole place.

The speculative game now is what will the Ridpath block look like once the dominos have fallen: A condemned building? An elaborate resort? A new parking lot? A smoldering ruin? Something else?

For now, the city is trying simply to eliminate health and safety problems at the place. Still. The owners, and Jeffreys in particular, are pushing back with varying degrees of umbrage. They see the city as piling on – adding to the whole host of problems already weighing the place down. But the hotel, which closed three years ago this month, is a fire trap and a transient hot spot. It’s ugly and smelly – literally smelly. The divided and contentious ownership creates enormous problems, but the problems are not of the city’s making.

Building and fire officials have been asking property owners for months to clean up the place, fix broken windows, secure the entrances, and, most importantly, make sure there are fire and safety systems. Some steps have been taken, but not nearly enough, officials say. Chief among the concerns is fire safety – and you can see why, given that the property strikes a lot of people as the “before” half of an arson story.

The city has laid out the rules clearly, and waited months for responses. I have heard both building and fire officials listen patiently to outraged complaints from some of the owners or their representatives, protesting that they still cannot understand what is required of them and professing to be so confused by it all that they can’t meet the requirements.

Four months after the city’s first notices went out to property owners, these complaints are hard to credit.

“We really try to give people the opportunity to explain their circumstances and work with them on compliance time if we can,” said city Fire Marshal Lisa Jones. “But we’re already way past that point here.”

The city’s not done. Jones will be sending out notices to property owners soon giving them final deadlines to get fire alarm and suppression systems in working order, or face more civil penalties. At $513 per infraction, and with several potential infractions in each separate piece of property, that bill could add up.

Those penalties – if they are assessed – will come on top of the $1,500-per-parcel fees already assessed by the building department, which declared the Ridpath and neighboring buildings “substandard,” with the exception of one parcel. Because Jeffreys owns a lot of parcels, his fines added up to much more than everyone else’s – a total of $24,000 for the top two floors and portions of the neighboring Y building. In an angry letter sent in late July, he informed the city that he will no longer perform the work they’re requiring, until these fees are lifted.

“This is a clear act of ‘Bad Faith’ on the City’s Building Department’s part and we have halted the completion of the fire alarm system, strobes, detectors, etc., until a time the assessed fines/fees are revoked,” Jeffreys wrote in a letter to the city. “I have spent thousands of dollars to date. … I will not spend anymore monies, until a time these assessment fines/fees are revoked and the liens removed.”

In other words, unless the city stops charging him fees him for not following the rules, he’s not going to follow the rules.

It might just be, of course, that he can’t afford to follow the rules. The city is asking the building owners to perform work on the fire safety and sprinkler system that will cost thousands of dollars. All the property owners but Jeffreys appear to be cooperating on a plan being organized by Stephen Antonietti, a Spokane man who is trying to broker some kind of future at the place, but it’s going to take thousands of dollars and, as Antonietti says, “No one has any money.”

And, unlike that fancy bike, no one wants to swoop in and take the Ridpath.

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