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Asbestos stops work on Otis Hotel renovation

Work on the Otis Hotel in downtown Spokane has been stopped after asbestos was found on the property. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Work on the Otis Hotel in downtown Spokane has been stopped after asbestos was found on the property. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Work to restore the Otis Hotel in downtown Spokane was stopped this month after air quality inspectors found signs of asbestos and no sign the developer had hired a certified contractor to deal with the cancer-causing material.

Notices posted March 9 on the doors of the old hotel show an “order of immediate restraint,” which halts all work as the state Department of Labor and Industries investigates if proper handling and disposal of any asbestos-laden materials has been done.

Curtis Rystadt, a former mortgage broker who owns the building, said he believed the stop-work order was done without justification, since he had contracted with a company that he said was qualified to deal with the carcinogenic substance, which he named as 4 Aces Restoration.

Rystadt – who is based in Oregon, where he owns several other properties – said he’d spent more than $50,000 disposing of the asbestos, and had the company in the building “three or four times” to dispose of floor tiles, popcorn ceiling and insulated pipes embedded in the walls. Each time, he said, workers wore masks and used a negative pressure enclosure, though he acknowledged he was “no asbestos expert.”

Rystadt provided invoices, a laboratory report and other documentation that show discussion of the handling of asbestos. It is not known if 4 Aces Restoration is a certified asbestos abatement company.

Elaine Fischer, a labor and industries spokeswoman, said her department was in the “earliest stages of gathering information” and couldn’t provide more detail other than it couldn’t confirm that Rystadt had hired a certified contractor.

“There is no documentation that asbestos was removed by a certified asbestos abatement contractor whose workers are trained in asbestos abatement,” Fischer said. “Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency is the agency that is charged with public safety. Our role is to determine if workers were exposed to contamination.”

Requests for information from the clean air agency were not returned.

Rystadt plans to reopen the Otis as a 122-room hotel with a restaurant on the ground floor. He said the earliest it would open is March 2019.

Rystadt said he is “frustrated” with the work being stopped on his project, but didn’t “know who to be frustrated with.”

“What I think is absolutely ridiculous is L and I said they wanted my legal consent to go on the property. That freaked me out a little bit. I said, ‘Why don’t you just go out there?’ They said, ‘We need your legal consent,’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Just promise me you’re not going to write me a fine and you can go on the property. Tell me if there’s something wrong, I want to solve it.’ ”

That didn’t happen, and now the project has been stalled. Rystadt said he’s not sure when work will begin again.

“I thought we had it all covered,” he said. “Obviously no one likes delays, but we need to have delays if there’s asbestos there.”