Posted 10/18/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The Skywatch Inn in Ray may get another extension for filing a building permit with the county, if the county follows the city’s recommendation.
In June, the county set a deadline of Oct. 1 for the owners to submit a complete building permit application, as well as some other conditions, or face actions to reclaim the site at the owner’s expense.
Representatives of the owners approached the Williams County Commission earlier this month to request an extension, and the county referred the matter back to the city.
John Seibert, a consultant of the owners, presented the request to the Ray City Commission last week.
While the commission granted the request, it imposed some strict conditions on the company. The Skywatch Group, which owns the project, is required to deposit $250,000 into an escrow account by Feb. 1 of next year, which will be released if the owners secure a building permit from Williams County.
By the same deadline, the group must sign a development agreement with the city. They must also install a fence around the site by Tuesday, Oct. 25.
The group agreed, in writing, to the conditions, and in exchange, the city agreed to recommend to Williams County the request for an extension be approved.
Frustrations over the situation have grown considerably high due to the appearance of the site. It’s remained in its present state for about two years, ever since the site broke ground, becoming a visible eyesore to anyone passing through town.
“We’re the laughing stock of the Bakken,” said Mayor Ken Munson.
Seibert apologized, but said it isn’t the owner’s fault. Skywatch Group had every reason to believe it had secured funding from a financial services company. That company later pulled out of the project while it was being investigated by the SEC for fraud, Seibert said.
This left Skywatch without a lender for the project, and now with investors shying away from the Bakken, the project has stalled, Seibert recounted.
Commissioner Travis Rettig was noticeably upset with the owner’s unresponsiveness to concerns over the appearance of the project site since its groundbreaking.
“You know the damage you’re doing to this small community right now?” he asked.
Seibert assured the commission the project has not been abandoned, and they are actively looking for investors to allow them to move forward.
He said they had considered more options for the project, which was originally a hotel. Now they are considering possibly a mixture of retail, apartments, and senior housing. He said they have not yet developed a new plan.
Commissioner Mary Smith asked how the group is seeking investors for a project with no definitive plans.
Seibert said the investors are being informed of the tentative nature of the project plans.
Despite the setbacks they’ve faced and ongoing challenges, he said the Skywatch Group hired him to help move the project forward, and they wouldn’t be paying him if they planned to walk way.
He said a significant problem is investors are waiting to see the outcome of the presidential election before making any long-term plans.
Rettig wasn’t comfortable with that explanation, stating the city has already waited an extended period of time for its issues to be addressed.
“We’re going to wait for the election now? We’re going to wait to see if the oil field comes back? That’s a cop out,” Rettig told Seibert.
The commission needed to make a decision on the issue Monday last week so the matter could go to the county for the county commission’s meeting yesterday, the outcome of which came after the Tribune’s press time.
Munson said, all too often, the city commission is placed in the position of having to make decisions on the “90th hour,” then warned their denial will ensure the project’s failure.
Munson said he is on the verge of letting that happen.
“I’m ready to let the chips fall,” he said.
Even if the city did deny the extension, said Commissioner Richard Liesener, and the project failed as a result, nothing can be done to reclaim the site until next spring. Therefore, the city had nothing to gain by recommending a denial of the extension.
This is the same reasoning upon which the city voted last June to grant a February deadline, but the county commission voted for the Oct. 1 deadline against the city’s recommendation.
Seibert said since that time the company has paid the city to pump out the standing water on the site, addressed other safety issues, and contracted for a new fence to be erected around the perimeter.
With the strict conditions laid out, the commission voted to recommend the county approve the extension.
The city gave the group until noon on Friday to provide a signed document agreeing to the conditions, which the group did deliver, just in time.