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Tuesday, November 12, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Reopening Ridpath a thorny endeavor

In this Jan. 24, 2013 photo, developer Ron Wells stands outside the old Ridpath Hotel. Investors in an effort to renovate the hotel have stripped Wells of his authority, citing recent charges that he defrauded insurance companies in the past. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
In this Jan. 24, 2013 photo, developer Ron Wells stands outside the old Ridpath Hotel. Investors in an effort to renovate the hotel have stripped Wells of his authority, citing recent charges that he defrauded insurance companies in the past. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A little more than five years ago, attorney Greg Arpin wrote a letter to city officials, complaining about the conditions at the shuttered Ridpath Hotel.

Transients were in and out of the place all the time. Garbage lingered on the sidewalks. “It smelled like a garbage dump,” Arpin said at the time.

Arpin’s complaint set off a flurry of activity in and around the Ridpath – a series of city efforts aiming to force a cleanup and improvement of the fire safety system. It also coincided with a renewed interest from potential developers in the property, which closed as a hotel in 2008 after a century in business.

Since then, a lot of things have happened at the Ridpath. One proposal to put apartments in the building by developer Ron Wells has won the support of city officials and downtown proponents. Another group is trying to reopen the Ridpath as a hotel but has repeatedly missed deadlines to purchase part of the hotel. Each says it’s going to buy out the other, and both are locked in an arm-wrestle with the bankrupt owners of part of the building – Nevada corporation 515 Spokane Partners.

So, there are reasons for hope and reasons for frustration. But at street level – despite the addition of some art projects in the vacant windows – Arpin sees little improvement.

“I was just thinking to myself, ‘This thing hasn’t changed one iota since I first complained to the city,’ ” Arpin said this week.

The battle to drag the hotel out of bankruptcy continues, as frustratingly complicated and opaque as ever. The key remaining issue involves the ownership of the main tower of the hotel – which comprises most of the square footage but a small minority of the voting rights in the building. Many people feel the bankrupt owner of those units, 515 Spokane Partners, is refusing to move forward with a good-faith sale, dragging out the process unnecessarily.

Everyone’s talking about how to “motivate” the seller and wondering whether 515 Spokane Partners is sincerely trying to sell the property to satisfy its bankruptcy obligations or merely trying to collect more and more nonrefundable fees for granting extensions. My attempts to contact their attorney were unsuccessful this week, so it’s hard to say what the holdup is. But it would not be the first time that someone in the Nevada ownership of the hotel has played the system for gain or been cavalier about urgent matters in Spokane.

Wells continues to press his plan to put affordable housing in the former hotel. He and his partners, Ridpath Club Apartments, own the upper floors of the hotel and some of the other units; he has a large majority of voting rights in the building.

His proposal, which may include a Department of Housing and Urban Development loan through the city, has been complicated over the past year by another bidder. Crystal City LLC outbid Wells’ group in bankruptcy court for the main tower of the hotel and the neighboring Y building, offering $4.3 million. But Crystal City has missed six deadlines in a row to close the sale, essentially purchasing extensions to the tune of more than $600,000. Wells has argued that, since he is the backup bidder, the seller should long ago have taken his bid.

He’s now asking the court to return his escrow payments, and he intends to try and pursue the property outside the current bankruptcy process. His strategies include an effort to persuade creditors to bring pressure for a sale – including Spokane County, which is owed about $750,000 in back taxes on the hotel. The county has so far declined to go after the money more aggressively, noting that it will eventually be paid through the bankruptcy process.

However he gets there, Wells said, he remains committed to the project.

“We’re digging in our heels,” he said.

Meanwhile, one of the men associated with the Crystal City proposal says the group still intends to complete the purchase of the hotel rooms, with the eventual goal of reopening the Ridpath as a hotel. Steve Antonietti said Crystal City’s failures to close the deal are built around a dispute over insurance payments for the repair of some water damage in the hotel. As a result of the dispute, the attorney for the seller no longer takes his calls, he says – though he continues to insist that he can find a way to make the purchase.

“It’s like all of a sudden they act like they’re not in a hurry to sell it,” Antonietti said.

Wells has purchased 16 condominium units in the building, giving him nearly 90 percent of the condo votes, with a plan to put in a combination of “micro-apartments” and traditional apartments for downtown living. He said the apartments would be targeted at working-class young people – “baristas and retail store clerks and bank tellers and so forth.”

The problem for Wells, and everyone else who’s tried to make anything happen at the hotel, is consolidating the ownership. The hotel was broken into so many separate condominiums by legendary Spokane con man Greg Jeffreys and others that no single buyer has so far been able to bring them all together.

Wells said he and his partners are not giving up, and because of the wide range of support he’s received he feels a duty to continue.

“We have a moral obligation to hold our ground and stay firm and not sell our condos at any price,” he said. “Period.”

Back when Arpin was first complaining about the hotel, Jeffreys still had a stake in the building. That was before he was eventually charged by feds in a wide-ranging fraud case, which landed him an eight-year prison sentence. But his influence is still felt in the Byzantine series of condo divisions he inflicted upon the property – even the building’s sign is a legally separate unit. All of that has laid the groundwork for the current struggles.

“It’s like (Jeffreys) is still in the building,” Antonietti said.

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

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