January 25, 2013 in City

Historic Ridpath will have a future if Wells succeeds

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Developer Ron Wells wants to have as many as 194 micro-units, along with high-end condos, available at Spokane’s Ridpath Hotel.
(Full-size photo)

The logjam may finally be breaking at the Ridpath Hotel.

Developer Ron Wells, whose fine touch with condos and historical properties is well-established, has begun purchasing units at the decrepit hotel. Though the plans aren’t final – and though the problems at the hotel are notoriously thorny – Wells said Thursday that he is “100 percent certain” he’ll be able to secure financing for a project combining high-dollar condos at the top of the tower and a mix of apartment units below.

A key component of the plan would be plenty of “micro-units,” or small, inexpensive, efficient studios. Wells wants to have as many as 194 micro-units, but that figure may change as the financing is finalized. He foresees the apartment project at $17.5 million, with less certainty surrounding the number of condos – and the cost – at the top of the tower.

“It’s not a question of whether we’re doing it,” Wells said. “It’s a question of where we settle on the parameters” for the number and type of different units.

This the best news for the Ridpath – and the community – that we’ve heard in a long time. The hotel, which first opened in 1900, has been closed since 2008 and its ownership became pieced out into some 19 separate condo units.

That piecing-out process resulted in scores of legal problems and conflicts among the owners, and the property deteriorated. The city got involved in March 2011, demanding that the owners fix myriad problems ranging from constant transient break-ins to a lack of fire safety and security systems. Months and months of delays and difficulties getting the problems fixed followed. Finally, this past summer, the city’s complaints were satisfied, due largely to the involvement of banks that had taken over different units of the property, said Heather Trautman, city neighborhood services director.

A key player in the hotel, Greg Jeffreys, has also been largely removed from the equation. Jeffreys has been the subject of a raft of legal troubles. Federal investigators have been looking into his many real-estate deals for months, and though no charges have been filed, they allege that Jeffreys used sham appraisals to defraud investors of millions. He lost several key Ridpath units in foreclosure to River Bank; Wells and his partners, as Ridpath Penthouse LLC, purchased those properties in December for $500,000, according to county property records.

The LLC is comprised of Wells and his wife, Julie; Paul and Janet Mann; and Mark Mackin. Those investors, along with Lawrence “Mickey” Brown, are the principals in the larger apartment project, as well.

Wells says he intends to purchase the rest of the units in the Ridpath tower and the annex to the southeast, known as the Y building. His December purchases gave him a three-quarters voting majority in the condo associations, and he said that he feels confident in his ability – based on a lot of experience with condo projects – to work through any conflicts or problems among the divided ownership.

The idea of the micro-units is one of the coolest elements of the project – some have questioned whether it’s not a bit too cool for Spokane, Wells said. The tiny studios, designed for maximum efficiency and use of space and employing space-saving methods like Murphy beds, are trendy in urban areas. Micro-units are doing well in big cities; Portland and Seattle both have had successful developments with the concept, Wells said.

He said that when he presents the idea to people here, they sometimes remind him that Spokane is not Seattle or Portland. He counters that his micro-units of about 300 square feet would be a lot cheaper.

“This isn’t Seattle or Portland, but we’re talking $370, not $800, for a studio,” he said.

Wells said he hopes to begin construction in the summer, after nailing down the financing and beginning to work with the city for permitting. It will, no doubt, be daunting. The problems among ownership – problems Wells called “legendary” – aren’t fully resolved, and there’s good reason to believe that more lawsuits are on the way.

Some people in town have considered the hotel and declared the problems too great to overcome. Wells feels he has the plan to prove them wrong, and we should all hope he’s right. It’s long past time for optimism regarding the future of this rich piece of Spokane history.

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

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