Looking for an investment opportunity?
A chance to get your slice of the biggest mess in town?
Then mark your calendar, because a big chunk of the Ridpath Hotel has been slated for a foreclosure auction Jan. 6. It’s hard to see what the lucky buyer – or the luckless bank – will wind up owning: endless problems or endless opportunity.
Among the many, many troubles at the shuttered hotel – ranging from vandalism to fire danger to a raft of code violations to the persistent odor of urine – is the divided and contentious ownership of the property. If the foreclosure goes through, the man most responsible for the divisions and the contentions will lose most of his interest in the hotel.
The sunny view of this is that it means someone else could come in and start fresh. At least a couple people in town say they’ve got plans to do that – plans that depend on a lot of variables, including getting an answer to the question: What’s the price at which the Ridpath is worth more than the dirt it sits on?
The foreclosures might help inch us toward an answer. RiverBank – whose lending problems led to a federal intervention – filed notices last Friday of two trustee sales against Poachers Rock LLC. Poachers Rock is owned by Greg Jeffreys, who has the lion’s share of the hotel and whose legal and financial problems practically occupy their own wing at the courthouse.
Jeffreys owes RiverBank about $1.2 million on the properties – the top two floors of the main hotel tower and one unit of the neighboring Y building. Jeffreys can keep the properties by catching up on his payments before the end of the year, but his cascading problems don’t give the impression of a man who’s able to do that.
He faces a $1.3 million judgment in a case in which he allegedly improperly rerouted money owed to Washington Trust Bank. He’s lost medical equipment and a pricey vintage motorcycle to a bank to which he’s in default on $1.8 million in loans. He’s being sued by a host of people whom he engaged in elaborate business deals – including several at the Ridpath and several more on land at Airway Heights where he built a federal project – and had a $2.3 million judgment against him in one of those cases.
The lawsuits are large and complex and virtually impossible to summarize, but a lot of people are accusing Jeffreys of selling them properties with dramatically inflated appraisals and repeatedly failing to meet his obligations. The lawsuits include allegations of fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy, violations of the Consumer Protection Act, and conversion, which is the civil equivalent of theft.
The case involving the Ridpath properties is set for trial in February. The case involving the Airway Heights properties, parts of which have been settled, is set for trial in May.
“Everyone’s just trying to clean up the mess out there, is where we stand,” said Marshall Casey, who’s representing plaintiffs in the cases.
Jeffreys has not responded to my efforts to interview him recently, and the last time we spoke he complained that my columns about him have been unfair and mistaken. He has, in various court filings and other forums, denied many of the most damning claims against him.
Stephen Antonietti says he represents a group of investors who want to buy up all the separate hotel properties and reopen the place. He isn’t specific about his backing, but he has a grand vision for a multimillion-dollar resort there. Whether that’s realistic or not, Antonietti has spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to move his plan forward. These days, he’s more of a presence in just about any hotel discussion than anyone who actually owns a piece of it.
He says he plans to make an offer on the foreclosed properties – but is also waiting for final decisions on several Ridpath parcels that may be headed for foreclosure but aren’t there yet, and whether other issues, such as a possible bankruptcy, may further complicate things.
“We’re still in play, moving forward,” he said. “We’re patiently waiting on the foreclosure processes on the other entities in the property to come forward.”
Another local man, Mickey Brown, has told city officials he also has a plan for the property but can’t divulge specifics now.
The city, meanwhile, is pressing property owners to fix code violations and fire-safety problems at the hotel, and recently refused to back off from thousands of dollars in fees. The various owners are upset about this and have complained that the city is impeding progress at the hotel at a critical time.
So if this sounds like the deal for you, start gathering your pennies. It’s getting cold out. January’s just around the corner.