Hagerstown City Council to discuss purchasing former Holiday Motel

January 07, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • The Hagerstown City Council is expected to discuss the possible purchase of the former Holiday Motel at the corner of West Washington and North Prospect streets on Tuesday.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

The City of Hagerstown is considering buying the former Holiday Motel property, which has been vacant since the city shut down the motel on North Prospect Street in 2005 amid complaints of prostitution, drug use and vagrants on the property.

Armed with search warrants, city and county officials inspected every room in the motel and found numerous health and building code violations, prompting its closure nearly eight years ago, according to Herald-Mail archives.

In a Jan. 4 memo to City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, John Lestitian, the city’s director of economic and community development, said the blighted structure at the corner of West Washington and North Prospect streets has been vacant since October 2005.

Amid recent word that an investor wants to purchase the property and reopen the motel, city staff members are “seriously concerned” and want to buy the foreclosed property from the bank, Lestitian said in the memo.

The topic will be up for discussion at the Hagerstown City Council meeting Tuesday, starting at 4 p.m. at City Hall.

A different investor bought the property for $1.1 million in 2007 with intentions of redeveloping the site into office condominiums. The project did not go as planned and the property was foreclosed upon by the Frederick County Bank.

About a year ago, the city attempted to purchase the property, which has been for sale since the bank foreclosure. The city’s goal was to demolish the motel portion and market the rest of the property for potential redevelopment.

At that time, the bank was not interested, “as they were attempting to recoup as much of their loss as possible,” Lestitian wrote in his memo. The city has kept tabs on new developments of the property ever since.

Lestitian said city staff recently learned that the bank received a written offer from an “out-of-area” investor who wants to acquire the property and eventually reopen the motel.

“While staff do not know the identity of this out-of-area investor or the details of the investor’s plans, staff are seriously concerned about this development,” Lestitian wrote in the memo.

With the current condition of the property and the state of the economy, city staff believe it is “highly unlikely” that reopening the motel would benefit the city’s goal of revitalizing the downtown area while working to protect existing neighborhoods and area investments, Lestitian said.

‘Transitional area’

The building is in a “transitional area,” according to Lestitian, which means it’s in an area that needs support and redevelopment. Properties on opposite corners include a church, a church/school and a city-owned parking lot.

Additionally, approximately 50 percent of the residents in that area are at or below the poverty level and unemployment is nearly 30 percent, Lestitian said.

According to his memo, Lestitian said the condition and use of the property ultimately will have a direct impact on the following:

• The Historic Heights Neighborhood, which has a long-term active Neighborhoods 1st organization that has helped improve the area over the years.

• An upscale condominium project on South Prospect Street and other similar residential investments in the area.

• The aforementioned church and church/school across the street.

• Additional private investment in the area, including the recent commercial renovations at 138 W. Washington St.

• Public investments for a current streetscape project on South Prospect Street and Washington County Transit Center immediately north of the site.

• “The Gateway” into the core of the city.

Bank officials have told the city that the written offer on the former motel property has not yet been accepted, Lestitian said.

If the city council votes to authorize negotiations for the acquisition of the property, city staff members plan to have the motel portion along North Prospect Street demolished and do exterior renovations of the structure facing West Washington Street.

If the five-member city council moves to authorize acquisition negotiations, city staff members also are requesting a brief executive session after the meeting Tuesday night to discuss a potential offer on the property.

The property at 170 W. Washington St., was valued at $150,700 as of Jan. 1, 2011, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation website.

Lestitian said adequate funding would be available for the project through the Economic Redevelopment Fund.

Bank officials have indicated that they need a response to the written offer to purchase soon, and need to hear back from the city by Wednesday.

Over the years

Through the years, the Holiday Motel, the successor to Midtown Motel, drew police attention. Calls for drug activity, vagrants and prostitution were not unusual.

In 1999, two men plunged from a third-floor window after forcing their way into a room in an apparent robbery attempt.

In 2005, a woman was charged with selling crack cocaine from her room.

The city shut down 25 hotel rooms and apartments at the Holiday Motel after a surprise search by officials with the Washington County Health Department, Hagerstown Police Department and county sheriff’s office in October 2005.

Reports published in The Herald-Mail say the Holiday Motel had about 55 rooms and 15 apartments.

In 2007, a developer from Frederick, Md., Edward “Skip” Tovornik Jr., president of CHS Development Property Management, tried to renovate the property to include eateries, offices and retail space, but those efforts failed due to the sluggish economy, according to Herald-Mail archives.

The construction of the Renaissance Center, as it was to be called, was put on hold indefinitely in 2009.

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