Sur­prise vote switch kills mo­tel deal

Two coun­cilors change votes at spe­cial ses­sion to con­sider Riverview sale

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Atkin­son As­sis­tant Editor

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.

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