July 11, 2012 in City

Council members showing interest in the Ridpath

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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As the excruciating end-game surrounding the Ridpath Hotel plays out, one name has cropped up repeatedly as a potential savior.

But Walt Worthy, the man who gave the Davenport Hotel back to Spokane, says he is not interested in these particular square feet.

“In a word: No,” Worthy said this week, when asked if he was getting ready to swoop in on another historic downtown project. “If somebody gave it to me, I’m not sure what I’d do with it.”

Talking to Worthy about the Ridpath does not leave you filled with optimism about the future of the place. And yet there are hints – hints, rumors, suggestions, and that is all – that developers have their eye on the place, still. And the other oft-mentioned potential rescuer of the Ridpath, Ron Wells, has a brighter view of the hotel’s prospects than Worthy does.

Does he have more than a brighter view? Concrete plans?

“All I can tell you is I’ve had an interest in the building since 2005,” Wells said. “I think it would be a fantastic apartment project.”

Beyond that, Wells said he couldn’t talk much about the Ridpath. At least not right now.

Since the city stepped in to try and force the various owners of the hotel to clean it up more than a year ago, there’s been a lot of talk and argument, some grand visions, a millstone of legal problems among owners, gradually escalating pressure from the city – and not a ton of visible progress.

The people involved insist that there is progress being made on improving fire, safety and security problems. Stephen Antonietti, who represents several owners and who says he has an offer on the table to consolidate ownership and reopen the Ridpath as a hotel, said the key fire and safety systems are set to receive city approval this week. Those approvals have been a huge stumbling block, but far from the only one.

Three members of the City Council – Ben Stuckart, Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori – are meeting with some people interested in the project this week. The councilmen say they just want to get up to speed on developments; Antonietti, who was not initially invited, fears the city is moving to condemn the property to clear the way for a behind-the-scenes buyer.

Stuckart, Salvatori and Mike Tedesco, head of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, all denied that the meeting is a move to condemn the Ridpath. Condemnation – the city taking ownership – is one possible, eventual worst-case result of the road the Ridpath is already on, with regard to fire and safety violations, but Thursday’s meeting isn’t centered on that, each of the three said.

And as for the supposed would-be behind-the-scenes buyer?

Worthy said, “It’s sure as hell not me.”

Worthy is well aware that lots of people think he, or Wells, could or should swoop in and rescue the place. Worthy has toured the building and talked to lenders and set aside the idea as financially unworkable, he said.

For one thing, there is a spectacularly complex and contentious series of ownership conflicts in the building, which was subdivided and sold off as condo units in a method that seems wildly nonsensical in retrospect. Several owners have stalemated relationships with Greg Jeffreys, the man who owns key pieces. Jeffreys’ legal troubles are legion, including a multimillion-dollar judgment in a civil case that alleged he improperly diverted federal payments on another development.

But even if someone could get past those problems, Worthy said, the finances of a Ridpath project don’t add up. He says it’s not viable as a hotel property; the land would be more valuable with the hotel gone than the hotel’s worth as a fixer-upper project, he thinks, but demolition is an expensive process in its own right.

“I can’t imagine anybody that had the money to do it going in and spending the money to do it,” Worthy said. “Everywhere you look – it’s a million here, a million there.”

Worthy is also dubious about the prospects for an apartment complex in the Ridpath. But that’s where he differs with Wells, who was outbid for the property in 2005 – before the great condo-splitting sales began and as the hotel was declining toward its closure in 2008.

Wells knows it wouldn’t be easy, but he still sees possibility in the Ridpath.

Meanwhile, the City Council’s interest in the project can only be good. Salvatori and Stuckart said Thursday’s meeting is an update, and the council members are interested in encouraging a positive development at the building.

One thing is certain.

“It’s not good for downtown to just sit there,” Worthy said.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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