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Shawn Vestal: Two visions of Ridpath’s future still battling to take control of shuttered hotel

The Ridpath Hotel is seen from the Bank of America Center in March 2012. (File)
The Ridpath Hotel is seen from the Bank of America Center in March 2012. (File)

It is only natural that the long, strange trip that has unfolded over the past several years at the Ridpath Hotel would continue to get longer and stranger.

Two potential buyers, each with much different designs for the building, have been vying in a Nevada bankruptcy court for ownership of a key piece of the long-closed downtown hotel – the tower floors with most of the hotel rooms.

Late last year, Ron Wells, who has pursued a plan to develop downtown apartments and purchased the majority of voting shares in the building’s condominium association, was outbid for those floors by a group associated with Stephen Antonietti, who has been trying for years to put together a plan to reopen a hotel there.

It seemed like Wells’ plan was in trouble.

But the group Antonietti is working with – Spokane County resident Ivan Kriger and Crystal City LLC – has missed several deadlines to pay up, and Wells’ group now says it is taking another run at obtaining those units of the Ridpath. Antonietti says he’s currently negotiating another extension on the purchase deadline, because his financing is dependent on buying Wells’ units in the hotel.

Which Wells says he isn’t going to sell …

“We have no interest in selling our ownership in the building,” he said Tuesday. “We’re full steam ahead and reassembling our deal.”

The competition has turned personal: Wells says Antonietti and Kriger have engaged in “malicious derailment efforts” to block his project, and notes that after they submitted the winning bid, the group repeatedly missed deadlines to complete the purchase following the original closing deadline of Nov. 2. Antonietti says Wells is liable for damage to the building that resulted from a water line break.

Both men say they expect their vision for the hotel to prevail.

Wells has asked the court to terminate his position as the backup bidder, and plans to return to court Feb. 10 in an effort to negotiate a purchase of the units at what he considers a fair price. Crystal City won the bankruptcy auction with a bid of $3.135 million, which was $35,000 above the bid by Wells’ group, Ridpath Club Apartments. Crystal City has also bid $1.115 million for two units in the neighboring Y building.

“Their actions have now delayed our efforts by more than five months,” Wells wrote in a statement. “While we remain optimistic that we will be able to get this done, their actions have caused irreparable harm to us and to the City of Spokane.”

Antonietti has insisted in recent weeks that Crystal City was going to be able to come up with the money. The holdup, he says, is that the group needs to own the whole building to get financing, and Wells won’t sell his units at a fair price.

Antonietti’s interest in the building predates Wells’ plan, and he has been a constant presence around the hotel, often as a representative for an owner or potential buyer. He has managed to drag himself back into contention after past plans have seemed dead, but the missed deadlines of the most recent agreement do not represent the first times Antonietti has said he was on the verge of getting the financing that did not come through.

On Tuesday, he again said he was negotiating a 90-day extension with the seller, but insisted it was not a sign that Crystal City could not close the sale. He said each delay has been accompanied by payments to the seller, which indicates his group is a substantial buyer.

“They have $360,000 of my money,” he said.

He said his plan is to obtain the delay, and “in that 90-day period we buy (Wells) out.”

Wells says that won’t happen. His group owns 15 of the 19 condominiums in the hotel tower, with an offer on a 16th unit, he said. That amounts to nearly 85 percent of the votes in the condo association, though the unit currently in dispute constitutes the largest physical portion of the tower. He said he expects the Crystal City plan to fall through, and his group would then “start over” in purchasing the remaining units in the building.

All of the efforts to return some life to the historic hotel have been hampered by the incredibly complex maze of condominium ownership at the hotel – the product of a byzantine and shady series of transactions orchestrated by a notorious Spokane con man, Greg Jeffreys, among others. Jeffreys has been sentenced to eight years in prison on fraud charges, some of which are related to the Ridpath.

Wells has been working toward buying all of the hotel units since 2012, including the top two floors, where he plans to build high-end condos. His plans for the rest of the building include a variety of apartments, including low-income units and some “micro-apartments,” and he has worked with the city to secure federal financing for the project.

For now, though, a bright future for the Ridpath Hotel is back in a familiar place: on hold.

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