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Shawn Vestal: Deteriorating Ridpath doesn’t help downtown

If you want to feel good about what’s happened in Spokane over the past several years, take a stroll around the Davenport.

If you want to feel lousy, walk around the Ridpath.

A landmark Spokane hotel – though a rung below the Davenport’s nostalgic league – the Ridpath has plunged into disgrace. The windows are cracked and covered with graffiti. Garbage and old mattresses pile up inside. Entryways sport crushed beer cans and reek of urine. Transients have been getting in, and a recent city inspection found dead animals, garbage and feces – human and animal – on the floor. Above the old entrance on First Avenue hangs a flag that looks like something out of a battle scene – gray, torn and tattered.

Attorney Greg Arpin, whose office is nearby, has watched the deterioration since the hotel closed in August 2008. He reached a breaking point a couple weeks ago as he walked to lunch.

“There was just an odor coming out of the place,” he said. “It smelled like a garbage dump.”

Now, prompted by a complaint from Arpin, the city is trying to get the hotel cleaned up. The property has been posted with a notice of violation, and the various owners have been notified that the building appears to be “substandard” under city code – unsanitary, dilapidated, broken plumbing, inadequate weatherproofing, fire hazard …

Some of the property owners – of whom there are several – say the blame lies primarily with the Las Vegas firm that owned most of the Ridpath tower until a foreclosure in December. It’s now owned by 515 Spokane Partners LLC, which was formed by the lenders.

Greg Jeffreys, who owns the top two floors of the tower plus the neighboring Y building to the west, said the former owners, 515 Washvada Investments LLC, essentially abandoned the building after closing the hotel. The foreclosure should help open the way to get the hotel cleaned up, he said, and to move forward with plans to restore and reopen it.

A hearing is set for April 5, though property owners can begin tackling the problem sooner, of course. Heather Trautman, code enforcement supervisor, said her office has already heard from four property owners, and would like to see them propose a solution. If they don’t, the city can require compliance, charge fees and take other measures to get the mess cleaned up.

“Our goal, as always, is compliance,” she said.

The ownership of the Ridpath block is a tangled web. Even before it was closed, the hotel was essentially being pieced out, divided into condominiums and sold to different owners. Proposals to start nightclubs and restaurants fell through. Foreclosures and litigation have followed.

The city identified six owners in its violation notice: Jeffreys’ companies, Sundevil Investments and Poachers Rock; Club Envy of Spokane LLC; 515 Spokane Partners; Bank of Whitman; and Michael R. Maddy.

Efforts to contact Spokane Partners and Club Envy were unsuccessful. Maddy, who owns a real estate company in Polson, Mont., owns the Halliday building to the east of the tower. He said he planned to start addressing the city’s concerns this week, and there were signs of work at the building Tuesday.

Jeffreys said it’s been frustrating for people who’ve invested in the hotel to be stuck with few options, as Washvada stopped communicating with other owners. He’s optimistic that the foreclosure is going to open the door for a new life at the hotel. He said he and others have been in discussions with potential national operators.

“We’re working toward making a deal that would get that entire block up and running – by the entire block, I mean the Y building and the (tower),” he said. “We’ve got more than tire kickers. … They’re realistic.”

The more you know about the Ridpath, the more you want him to succeed. Opened in 1900, the hotel has a rich history as a central Spokane landmark. Elvis stayed there. Parts of “Vision Quest” were filmed there. The newspaper archives are full of old photos of election night parties and formal balls. More recently, the top-floor restaurant and bar, Ankeny’s, had perhaps the best nighttime view of the city around – along with its loungy, piano-bar stylings.

Chuck Bartlebaugh is a Missoula man who comes to Spokane periodically in his work with the Center for Wildlife Information. The last time he was here, he saw that flag on First and was taken aback.

“I saw the flag, and it really was profound to me,” he said. “It was kind of standing over our bad economic times. It was like a battlefield.”

The flag has gotten the attention of veterans in town, too – plenty of whom have brought it up at the VFW Post 51 Hall, said Paula Holmes, post manager.

On Tuesday, Jeffreys said he didn’t know about the flag. Though it wasn’t on his piece of the building, he said, “I’ll take that down.”

Arpin said that he’s glad the city is moving to get the building cleaned up, but he wishes it hadn’t taken so long.

“What does it take for people to see what brings downtown down?” he said. “It’s stuff like that, that they just let go and go and go.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.


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