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Shawn Vestal: Young vandals compound Ridpath’s woes

Stephen Antonietti, left, shows vandalism damage in the Ridpath Hotel to members of the Spokane fire and building departments on Tuesday. (Christopher Anderson)

Now for the insult.

The Ridpath Hotel has suffered several years of gradual injury. Now, just as the city is pressing property owners to address health and safety problems, five teenagers have been arrested for allegedly breaking into the empty hotel and going on a Fourth of July vandalism spree.

On the hotel’s second and third floors, furniture was smashed and thrown from a mezzanine. Lamps were broken, bookcases overturned. A kitchen was trashed, with scores of crystal salt-and-pepper shakers shattered. Graffiti read “Hail Satan” and “Rot in Hell.” Pages from a Bible – a Gideon edition, naturally – were scattered across the floor.

“Every light they could get their hands on, they broke,” said Stephen Antonietti, a Spokane man who’s acting as a representative for some property owners and who says he’s trying to put together a plan to unify ownership and reopen the hotel.

Antonietti said the damage totaled around $40,000. Five teenagers were arrested on recommended charges of first-degree burglary; the case has been forwarded to juvenile prosecutors.

The vandalism spree illustrates one of the biggest problems at the dilapidated Ridpath: Transients get into it regularly, even as property owners have changed locks and taken other steps. Meanwhile, efforts to restore fire detection and suppression systems are stymied by conflicts among the owners and an emerging resistance to the city’s efforts to crack down.

During an inspection of the damage on Monday, City Fire Marshal Lisa Jones said transients still break into the hotel all the time, some 14 weeks after the city notified property owners that the buildings had to be secured.

“They’ve been getting in, and they’ve been relentless,” she said.

Jones and deputy building official Dan Skindzier got an earful from a couple of property owners involved in the hotel during the inspection. The divided ownership of the hotel is a huge obstacle to progress; several different parties own different pieces of the hotel. The ownership – and the resulting quagmire involving lawsuits and access to utilities, among many, many other problems – has resulted in a situation that sometimes seems intractable.

The discussion between city officials and property owners at the hotel Monday was one of those times. Dave Largent, who owns the former Club Envy nightclub space at the hotel, is upset that he’s been assessed a $1,500 fee by the city; his space has been found “substandard,” as has every space but one, and the fee is meant to cover city costs.

But Largent is furious about it, because he says he’s been the one who paid the utility bills for the entire building for years while other owners, notably Greg Jeffreys and the Las Vegas bank that foreclosed on the main tower, have refused to collaborate. He and several other owners have sued Jeffreys over some transactions, alleging they were based on inflated values; Jeffreys is also being accused in a separate lawsuit of improperly taking a government payment owed to his lender.

Largent’s frustration is understandable. But Jones and Skindzier’s job is to enforce the rules, not to sort out the owners’ disputes. Property owners were first notified of code violations in April, and there’s been limited progress since.

“We’ve got unprotected, unsafe buildings here, and it’s in the heart of our city,” Jones said.

The recent vandalism reinforces the truth of this. Those upper floors of the Ridpath are still full of “combustibles” like beds, drapes and linens, and if a drunken teenager puts out a cigarette on a bedspread, there’s not a system to detect the fire or water to put it out. It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to picture a different ending to the Fourth of July story.

On the other hand, it takes an incredible leap of imagination to see how all this comes out in a positive way. Antonietti says he’s putting together a plan in which all the owners – except Jeffreys, so far – pitch in to restore fire safety systems. He thinks it might happen in the next 60 days.

So that’s good. But every time you think there’s a step forward, you realize you just overlooked a backward step. On Tuesday, that involved the appearance of Greg Koller – Jeffreys’ representative – at a city hearing over code violations on the top two floors of the hotel.

Koller acted defensive, obtuse and uninformed. He seemed almost completely unfamiliar with city requirements that had been laid out in writing in at least two separate meetings. He seemed unaware of basic definitions in the process and unwilling to understand somewhat obvious explanations.

At one point, he acted flummoxed by one of the most basic, oft-repeated requirements: that the property owner provide a written plan for addressing deficiencies. Worst of all, he seemed aggrieved that the city had dared to assess a $1,500 fee against Jeffreys for failing to follow the rules he was given weeks and weeks to follow.

After the hearing, Koller told me he finds it impossible to keep straight what the city wants, and that different officials tell him different things.

But he was woefully – or willfully – unprepared. For those of us hoping for a Ridpath revival, it was insulting.

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

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