OPINION - Weller editorial cartoon - old hotel

We’ve tried to fish. Now it’s time to cut bait.

For years, Ephraim City has tried to work with multiple owners to get the now infamous Travel Inn at 330 N. Main torn down and something decent put in its place. Sometimes the city has struggled to simply locate the owner of the acre-plus property.

But the 40-unit structure still stands, unboarded-up windows broken out, the disheveled contents of rooms abandoned 15 years ago still visible.

As one woman who testified before the city council in 2014 put it, “It’s embarrassing.” Another woman who spoke at the same meeting said simply, “It’s horrible.”

Now the current owner, who has owned the property nearly two years, is asking for more delays and giving more ambiguous timelines.

Everybody’s worn out. It’s time for the city to jump through whatever legal hoops it needs to in order to get the building condemned. Then the city, calling on volunteer help if needed, must take it down. Once the building is gone, the city could put a lien on the land in the amount of demolition costs.

Consider a partial chronology, drawn from the archives of the Sanpete Messenger.

Six years ago, in April 2011, Councilman Don Olson was one of the first council members to speak out about conditions on Main Street, particularly the motel. If the then owner didn’t tear the motel down promptly, he said, “we need to contact our county building inspector, and if he condemns it, which he will, we tear it down.”

In July, 2011, Olsen spoke out again. “This north end is pretty shabby coming in to our nice little town,” he said. The Messenger carried a large page 1 photo of the motel showing weeds 2 feet high.

In June, 2012, then Mayor David Parrish declared, “This mayor is absolutely serious about cleaning up these buildings that do not meet state, county and city standards for safety and occupancy.” Later in the meeting, Parrish said prophetically, “Nothing is going to happen quickly.”

In July, 2015, City Planner Bryan Kimball told the city council he had good news: The blighted property had been sold at auction. Zions Bank had purchased it and resold it to Branden Kirk, a Spanish Fork realtor. And Kirk had asked for help from the city to tear the motel down.

The city seemed to turn up the heat in 2016. The city council gave City Manager Hanson a deadline of Dec. 31, 2016 to get the building down. Police Chief Ron Rasmussen, whose duties include code enforcement, told the city council a couple of times that one way or other, the building was coming down.

The city council set aside time at one of its meetings to hear from the public about blight in the city. One of the people who spoke was had been the city’s building inspector in time past. He had left to work as a building inspector on the Wasatch Front, then returned to Ephraim to retire. He said if he had been building inspector in Ephraim, the Travel Inn would have come down years ago.

The city paid Sunrise Engineering to do an inspection of the property. Then the city staff and owner Branden Kirk said they needed three more months, until the end of March, to work out a solution.

On March 15 of this year, Kirk visited the council to say he needed the city to approve a site plan for apartments on the site before he could do anything else. City Planner Kimball pointed out that site plan approval typically takes 6-8 weeks.

Once he had an approved plan, the owner said, he would be able to seek investors in the project. And once he had financing, he could give a timeline for demolishing the motel.

Wait a minute. The extended deadline for the building to come down was March 31. That’s tomorrow!

The Travel Inn is more than a blighted motel. It has become a symbol that says, “You can do anything you want here in Ephraim and we’re not going to do anything bout it.”

If we don’t want that kind of thinking to become entrenched in the public consciousness. it’s time to cut bait.