Tear Down This Wall.
Pull over the other walls. Haul off the rubble and rebar.
It’s a straightforward request but due a complicated, expensive and apparently years in length answer. Thursday (March 24), I made the request to the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, that something be done about remains of the Mountain Inn, left vacant for ages then partly razed a few years ago. Some three stories of wreckage remain at the entrance to our restored and popular downtown.
[See the end of this column for updates.]
An entity named NWAP LLC of Mountain Home in 2014 bought the property, on the southwest corner of College Avenue at Center Street about a block east of the historic Square. (Mountain Home by the way is not a suburb but 122 miles east.)
Before, the Mountain Inn extended a block south of Center to Mountain Street. That half block of 1960s-ish building, an eyesore for years, finally was torn down, left as a hole for some time but now is a parking lot. A strip of land about 20 yards wide along College (U.S. 71) next to the ugly part has been landscaped with grass and a few shrubs. The front though is nice.
A summary can be found at the Fayetteville Flyer’s May 2014 “Mountain Inn Property under Contract in Downtown Fayetteville” and from July 2014 “Ex-Developer Richard Alexander Still Keen on Mountain Inn Site” in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The latter is about the immediate previous owners, partners planning a new hotel who bought the site in September 2007 — yes, right before the Great Recession, which explains what happened then.
All that makes sense, and our right course should be empathy and patience. Within reason. This past Feb. 1, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette began, “Publicly announced plans to remake the derelict Mountain Inn building downtown haven’t yet happened, and a representative of the property’s owners said it could be still longer before the owner makes any substantial changes.” That article is behind a fee wall.
The newspaper included a timeline:
“• 1923: The Oriental Hotel was bought and turned into the Mountain Inn. It eventually expanded to about 100 rooms in the 1960s.
“• 1998: The Mountain Inn closed and has remained vacant and in disrepair since.
“• 2005: Developers demolish a portion of the building, which is eventually replaced with a public parking lot that still covers much of of the property.
“• 2014: NWAP LLC buys the property for $1.1 million from the Bank of Fayetteville.”
One assumption is that the City takes care of dilapidated property sooner or later, notifying the owner, pushing the owner and, finally, after bureaucratic maneuvers takes action: tows the abandoned vehicle, scythes the tall weeds or pulls down the gray-painted-brick hulk, billing the owner or perhaps absorbing the cost, we taxpayers’ price for living in society.
The NWAP LLC site is not dangerous. Nothing seems likely to fall, and there’s no nails or broken glass. Just embarrassing. I posed a question on the matter on Facebook days ago and got quick answers from people who know what’s what: the city needs a complaint filed first. Because I smelt it this time, I’ll be the one that dealt it.
At least be first: For something this big, others now should complain, for best results. Here are the steps.
At the municipal website homepage is a link to the City Service/Complaint Form. Click “Begin Request,” which leads to “Type of Service or Problem,” with a drop-down menu of common topics, “Select the Service Requested or Problem Reported.” The closest perhaps is “Substandard Unoccupied Structure Report.” If another label looks better when you file an online complaint, use it.
For “Description of Request of Problem,” I wrote:
“It’s been years, and what’s left of the Mountain Inn continues to be an eyesore to residents and visitors to our otherwise beautiful downtown. The remaining structure is three stories tall, with boarded up windows and doors or on upper floors holes or exposed insulation where windows were. Brick and block are cracked or crumbling.”
For the actual street address, I typed in Center St. and “front” because the accurate address number may not be that of the still nice-looking front. So I filled in the “Locator Information” field with “Southwest Corner of College Avenue at Center Street, remaining part of the Mountain Inn.”
You then hit “Next,” which wants your name, address, phone and email. Then, “Finish.” The last window provides your service request number. Mine is 159027.
I’ve received an email confirmation. Time to wait.
• • •
Update, March 25, evening: Friend Dave Edmark alerted me to this tweet:
— NWADemGaz Photos (@NWADemGazPhotos) March 25, 2016
This indicates a cleanup is forthcoming. Perhaps the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will have details in its Saturday edition. Its photo is from today, Friday. I shot mine earlier in the week. “Sealed” or not, what’s left of the building behind its front facade is waiting for the wrecking ball. And the property should make some developer a lot of money, sooner not later.
• • •
Update: March 26: The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published in Saturday’s Fayetteville/Springdale section front a photo similar to the above (shot by Andy Shupe). The caption explains corrugated panels are to seal upper stories and that city officials in January told NWAP LLC to make repairs, ensure people can’t enter and otherwise “bring the property into compliance with city code or else face possible legal action.”
• • •
Update, March 26: The city emailed me that it has completed my service request, in that there’s already an open case it’s addressing. And I’ll be contacted. Here’s the completed form (I blocked out my contact information):
• • •
Update: April 9: A representative of the city phoned not many days after the service request was filed. Great! But it took days of answering-machine tag for us to connect. David of the Compliance Division of Community Development only had a little to say but wanted me to take all the time I needed to vent — that must be their training — but I wanted information not to complain so this wasn’t a long call. No surprise that there’s no law or ordinance against “eyesore.” The city can act on matters of public safety. An “unoccupied or substandard structure” needs to be safe, as in relatively accident-proof, and it needs to be secure, so trespassing (and vandalism and accidents) would be difficult. The city has a good relationship with the “new ownership and their agents,” who agree to requests for sealing openings, landscaping along the side and that the front facade be presentable. “As long as it remains secure we’re not going to have any issues with it,” David said. The city — along with us — hopes the new owners do something wonderful with the old Mountain Inn property and soon. That’s it.
• • •
Update: Sept. 8, 2016: An art collective based in Fort Smith my hometown, named The Unexpected, has commissioned professional muralists to work there in the last year or so, creating huge paintings on the sides of buildings downtown. The Unexpected ventured to Fayetteville — to the main exposed wall of the Mountain Inn as a matter of fact — where it put Alexis Diaz of Puerto Rico to work. He finished this week, and here’s a 40-second video about it, from The Unexpected’s Facebook page:
As can be seen in the film, parts of the vacant building still are an eyesore. But now, motorists have something wonderful to see as they drive up old 71 to our burg.
The Fayetteville Flyer published some details about the project just before it was completed, in “Unexpected Mural to Be Finished Wednesday.”
If it was up to me, I’d name the painting “Owl Be Seeing You.”