Surprise vote switch kills motel deal
Two councilors change votes at special session to consider Riverview sale
HOPEWELL — A change of heart resulted in a change of vote, but it still was not enough to allow the city to buy the Riverview Inn & Suites property for future development use.
In a surprise move, Councilor Anthony J. Zevgolis switched his previous vote from support to opposition of the purchase, and that was enough to offset a change of heart by Councilor Christina J. Luman-Bailey, an original opponent who wanted her fellow councilors to revisit the proposal shot down at City Council's last meeting, With Zevgolis' switch, the vote was 4-3 to kill the deal Friday night.
Riverview, formerly known as the Evergreen Motel, sits on a .75-acre parcel bordered by state Route 10, Riverside Drive and The Boathouse restaurant, which occupies the former Navigator's Den property. It is one of several key access points into Hopewell, as Route 10 crosses the Appomattox River right at the property's corner.
City staff pushed for the quick turnaround on the purchase because Riverview’s current owner, Bhupendra Patel, is entertaining an offer from another business that wants to continue it as a motel. Hopewell has been eyeing that property for some time as both an enhancement to its developing riverfront and as a way to improve the aesthetic value of a major city access point. The Riverview building is 66 years old and appears very dated, although Patel has kept it up to par with hospitality regulations. However, Hopewell has deemed it not only an aesthetic eyesore but also a
public-nuisance property, as it claims the city's first-responders have answered almost 900 calls there in the past five years.
The original purchase price for the property was $1.1 million, but Assistant City Manager Charles F. Dane said the city renegotiated the price tag to an even $1 million. Plans called for the city th then turn around and lease it back to him to operate first on a yearly lease, then subsequent six-month extensions as needed. During that time, the city would market the property as a redevelopment project.
A 20-year mortgage loan would finance the purchase, with an expected monthly payment of approximately $8,500 on that loan. Patel would pay a $3,750 lease per month, and the remainder of that loan payment would be covered through salary savings in fiscal year 2019, which Hopewell estimates to be around $1.5 million.
The city said at least four unnamed developers have inquired about the parcel.
The special meeting was requested by Luman-Bailey, who said she changed her mind after that Dec. 19 meeting, where the vote was 4-2 to deny the purchase. Originally, Luman-Bailey said she feared the city was repeating history by buying the property with no firm deal in place to develop it — much like she claimed council had done with spending almost $4 million to buy and raze the former Bluffs publichousing development in 2006, then buying the former Patrick Copeland School site the following year. However, she said sht thought about it after that meeting and realized that the situation was different.
But while LumanBailey planned to switch sides, she and everyone else on council seemed shocked by Zevgolis' switch from yes to no. Zevgolis said he was all for getting rid of the motel, but he felt like the city was being forced by the Patels into a quick decision because they have another prospective buyer.
“I don't like the deal and I don't like being pushed into this,” Zevgolis said.
Proponents of the purchase noted the potential for developing the site from a dated aesthetic eyesore into a welcoming gateway for the city.
Councilor Janice Denton, who earlier in the meeting said she was “excited” over the possibility of the city buying the property, said she was “confused” by Zevgolis' switch. It also drew the ire of Luman-Bailey.
“It's quite surprising to me, given the price has dropped $100,000, that now he is voting 'no' in a drop of the price,” Luman-Bailey said.
Other opponents of the purchase said Hopewell still is too far in the fiscal weeds to be on the hook for a piece of property that is not guaranteed to sell, despite the city's claim of interest.
Councilor Brenda S. Pelham noted that the latest appraisal of the property was around $800,000, and she claimed that meant the city already would be $200,000 in the hole for it. She also noted that the monthly payment on the mortgage would have been $8,000, but the city was only going to lease it for $3,750 a month.
“That is magical math,” Pelham said.
Vice Mayor Jasmine E. Gore said she found it interesting that the same councilmembers who raised such a stink over the city paying $10,000 last October for a volunteer-appreciation dinner at the Boathouse suddently were in favor of the city taking on financial stewardship of the motel.
“Those concerns seem to have gone away,” Gore said.
Luman-Bailey and Zevgolis, as well as deal proponent Mayor Jackie M. Shornak, were defeated in their re-election bids last November.
Councilor Arlene Holloway, who was not present at the Dec. 19 meeting, joined Zevgolis, Gore and Pelham in opposing the purchase.
The 66-year-old Riverview Inn & Suites now is expected to be sold to another hotelier, who intends to keep it running as a motel. Hopewell has long sought the property for development purchases, and was pushing for the sale in order to control its destiny.