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Shawn Vestal: Sondland, at the center of impeachment crisis, had interest in Spokane’s Ridpath Hotel

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, left, and European Union Vice President Maros Sefcovic speak with reporters about trade as they travel with President Donald Trump, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, aboard Air Force One. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) ORG XMIT: DCEV108 (Evan Vucci / AP)
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, left, and European Union Vice President Maros Sefcovic speak with reporters about trade as they travel with President Donald Trump, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, aboard Air Force One. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) ORG XMIT: DCEV108 (Evan Vucci / AP)

The man at the center of the Ukrainian scandal – a figure who seems to have served a Haldemanian role in the White House attempt to shake down Kiev for political dirt – also had a presence in downtown Spokane in the 1990s.

He was the head of the company that owned the storied Ridpath Hotel.

Gordon Sondland is a prominent Northwest hotelier and U.S. ambassador to the European Union who has emerged as a key figure in the Trump administration’s authoritarian response to our constitutional crisis.

He is founder and chairman of Portland-based Provenance Hotels, which owns and manages properties all over the region – including the Hotel Max and Hotel Theodore in Seattle, and the Roosevelt, Hotel Lucia and Hotel deLuxe in Portland. His Hotel Murano in Tacoma is a former Sheraton that is filled with glass artworks, centering around the work of Dale Chihuly.

Sondland now stands portentously at the center of the scandal involving President Trump’s attempt to persuade the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden and his son over a widely discredited conspiracy theory.

Despite having no apparent reason to be involved besides his status as a big donor to Trump, Sondland took over the White House effort to coordinate the peddling of conspiracy theories out of the Ukraine, reportedly at the direction of the president.

Sondland’s text messages with other key officials form a damning picture that The Washington Post described as reading “like a government-sanctioned shakedown.” Though he insists in one text message that there was no quid pro quo involved in the dealings, Sondland’s texts paint a very quid-pro-quo-esque picture – they walk, swim and quack exactly like that particular duck.

House lawmakers running the impeachment inquiry subpoenaed Sondland, and his testimony has the potential to be hugely consequential. But the White House this week refused to allow Sondland to testify, part of a wholesale stonewalling of the impeachment process.

It’s almost certain that we will someday know more about what Sondland knows and what he did, whether it emerges through sworn testimony or future tell-alls from former officials. But for now, the prospect of his testimony looms over the entire matter.

Within that context, Sondland’s Spokane connection is but a brief postscript. He seems to have had little presence here besides owning the place, through Dunson Ridpath Hotel Associated Ltd.

That company owned the Ridpath in the 1990s. It leased the Ridpath to Cavanaughs Hospitality Corp. in 1997, and Cavanaughs bought it outright a couple years later.

The top executives of Cavanaughs at the time were Don Barbieri, president and CEO, and Art Coffey, who was executive vice president. Barbieri was traveling this week and not available for comment. Coffey said that he knew of Sondland through business dealings, but not well, and hadn’t had any contact with him for decades.

He was surprised to be told that Sondland was in the middle of the Ukrainian scandal.

“What in the world does Gordon Sondland have to do with the Ukraine?” he asked.

There’s little in the public record about Sondland in Spokane, and the complicated and cloudy history of the Ridpath ownership makes it hard to identify exactly when his company took over. The hotel, first built in 1900 and rebuilt after a fire in 1952, was long owned by the Ridpath family; they sold it to a hotel group in 1988.

Over the next decade, the hotel struggled financially and Dunson Ridpath Hotel Ltd. became the primary owner at some point. In 1997, according to a Spokesman-Review profile of the company that eventually became Red Lion Hotels, Cavanaughs entered a partnership with Dunson Ridpath Hotel Ltd. to lease the hotel.

“We’re still going to have money invested in the hotel,” Sondland said at the time. “They’re the hometown people. We will benefit from their knowledge of the market.”

Cavanaughs purchased the hotel about the same time the company went public in 1998. It was a time of great expansion for the hotel company, which was a growing venture of Goodale & Barbieri Co. The company sold the Ridpath to a hotel group in 2004, and ownership of the building began to splinter into an ever-more-complicated series of partners.

It experienced a long period of decline and eventual abandonment after its closure in 2008. The ownership of the hotel was chopped up into a dizzying array of condominium units that frustrated attempts in recent years to bring it back to life; it has now reopened as a downtown apartment building, a project that was driven in large part by developer Ron Wells – who has now pleaded guilty in an insurance fraud case and has been removed from decision-making on the project.

Sondland, meanwhile, seems sure to remain in the news, if not the history books. The questions about what he knows and whether we’ll find out about aren’t going away. Will we get answers? Or will there be – as with Haldeman and Nixon – a gap in the record?

In either case, Sondland’s slight connection to Spokane is but a footnote in that much more dramatic and important story.

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