Posted 5/31/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The Ray City Commission is hoping the Williams County Commission will add some terms if it agrees to accept an appeal from the developers of the SkyWatch Inn.
The county decided last month to revoke the building permit for the hotel after months without any progress towards completion.
The developers are appealing the decision so they have time to find an investor, apply for a new permit, and proceed with construction.
The county commission requested the Ray City Commission provide input at the June 7 regular county commission meeting, where the appeal will be considered.
Ray commissioners held a special meeting last week to discuss whether the city should recommend approving the appeal and what terms the county should hold the developer to should it approve the appeal.
The project, which was supposed to be completed by Spring 2015, stalled out when the original lender was unable to provide the funding the developers were expecting.
The developer accuses the lender of defrauding them, and that lender is being investigated for these allegations from a number of sources.
Meanwhile, the site has been an eyesore on the main thoroughfare running through town. Little has been done to maintain the site, including updating or removing a sign advertising a spring 2015 opening.
Of particular concern to the city of Ray is who will shoulder the costs for abatement of the site should the developer fail to find the funds to complete the project.
While there are no firm estimates, the costs could run anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million to remove and dispose concrete, buy dirt, and fill in the enormous hole that was dug for an underground parking lot.
The commission decided opposing the appeal would eliminate any possibility the project is completed. Instead, they discussed wanting the developer to demonstrate financial security with an escrow account to pay for structure removal and backfill if the appeal is approved but the project is not completed.
“Put your money where your mouth is if you want to do this,” said Mayor Ken Munson.
The commissioners tried to find a good balance. If the requested terms are too heavy handed, the developer could walk away from the project and stick the city and county with abatement costs. If they are not strict enough, the developer could drag the city along on another lingering non-starter, and the city would still end up cleaning up the site.
Munson wanted to give them 30 to 60 days to put the abatement money into escrow, but Liesener suggested the commission be more flexible.
“Let’s give them plenty of time. We want this to be successful,” Liesener said.
The commission debated moving the date to winter, but even if the city were to ultimately be stuck with the abatement costs, nothing would happen until the spring thaw anyway. Giving them until next year would not cost the city anything.
“Zero from zero is zero, and that’s where we’re at now,” Liesener said.
The commission voted to recommend a deadline for the escrow of Feb. 28 of next year.
Additionally, they will recommend the developer work in good faith to negotiate and execute a developer’s agreement at least 30 days prior to applying for a new permit.
“We’re going to hold a party if we see something happening out there,” Liesener said.
The commission will send Munson and Liesener, along with the city attorney and engineer, to represent the city at the June 7 county commission meeting.