No easy fix for old Governor's House Hotel, other Montgomery eyesores

No easy fix for old Governor's House Hotel, other Montgomery eyesores
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
In its glory days, the Governor’s House Hotel was the go-to place for an election night watch party. (Source: Times Gone By - Montgomery/Facebook)
In its glory days, the Governor’s House Hotel was the go-to place for an election night watch party. (Source: Times Gone By - Montgomery/Facebook)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - No one wants an eyesore in their backyard, but the city of Montgomery is stuck dealing with abandoned, run-down properties all over town. That includes closed up businesses like hotels.

City officials say the buildings are remnants of the great recession and abandoned hotels are actually an issue across the country.

If you've lived here long enough, you remember the Governor's House Hotel on East South Boulevard in its glory days.

It was the go-to place for an election night watch party, but today it's a far different story. The hotel is now decrepit, run down, an eyesore and a safety issue.

South Central Business District Member Aquan Robinson has fond memories of the Governor's House Hotel.

"I grew up in this part of town, and I can remember when this was vibrant when this facility was open. It was nice, people had events, they had a restaurant people went to and now you look at it and its unfortunate," Robinson said.

We got unprecedented access inside the hotel. Due to safety concerns, the Montgomery Police Department escorted our cameras through the dark, damp hallways of the shuttered hotel.

From the mold, mildew, shattered glass, insulation strewn everywhere, and evidence homeless people are living inside, Robinson says it's just downright depressing.

"People are living in there, it's leading to vagrancy, the homeless are living there," said Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange. "At the end of the day we have law enforcement obligations and responsibilities for that particular area, and it will become a crime infested area."

It's a concern echoed by Robinson and other area business leaders who are trying to help revitalize the area. He says every time his group, the South Central Business District, gets together and discusses what can be changed, the Governor's House Hotel is usually one of the first topics that comes up.

"There's a lot of people that have ideas on what they would like to see happen with the building, mainly people would just like to see the thing torn down, have a green space maybe a community park, community garden type of deal, but again you run into figuring out who owns it and costs of demolition," Robinson said.

Like many in the community, Robinson and his group keep running into roadblocks about what can be done and who owns the property.

"The Governor's House is for sale. The Department of Revenue has possession of it due to unpaid property taxes so the first bidder with $166,000 can take possession of the Governor's House Hotel," said Alabama Department of Labor Commissioner Julie Magee.

So the once thriving hotel now belongs to the state through a tax lien.

"We're revenue people, we're accountants and CPA's we're really not good at real estate management," Magee said.

Magee says the hotel is valued at over $1 million, and it's one of over 49,000 properties in state possession due to unpaid property taxes.

"With the number of properties on our rolls, we can't be held responsible for security of the property or fencing or even cutting the grass, but the law does allow a city or a county entity to take care of the property, send me the bill and when the property is redeemed they will be reimbursed," Magee said.

Magee says state law prohibits them from doing maintenance on the building, so the Governor's House is the city's issue right now.

"It does put a drain on the city or county. If they want to go in and invest in maintenance or cutting grass, that kind of thing, that could be a drain on city or county budget, but it's not a drain on the state because we're just not allowed to do any of that by law," Magee said.

"That doesn't shun us from the responsibilities we do have, but when you look at the big picture of what we deal with on a day in and day out basis, we have more than just the Governor's House," said Jerry Russell, director and chief building official for the City of Montgomery Inspections Department.

Doing the bare minimum is not simple or cheap.

"Fencing it in or boarding it up pushes probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 just to get a fence put around something, and then the problem is still there so what have you really done," Russell said.

Demolition isn't an economical solution either. It's not just hotels that are part of the problem, there are 380 structurally unsound properties that need to be demolished right now in the city of Montgomery.

"When you see these apartments, or you see these hotels, they're owned by somebody, and we the city can't just ride in on a white horse and tear them down because we would be trespassing," Strange said.

Last year, the city paid to demolish 70 residential properties at an average price of $2,500 each. If you add that up, that's $175,000.

"At any one time we may have 30 to 50 structures approved by the city council to be able to get down," Strange said.

The mayor says the city has a good working relationship with the state, and they'd entertain the idea of abating some property tax to get a developer to redevelop the Governor's House Hotel.

Magee says an investor could buy the property just by getting caught up on the unpaid taxes, and city officials are confident that the area will regenerate itself.

"Hotels I think along the Southern Bypass, there's several of them, that's really the concentration of being in a blighted property, and as you know the Southern Bypass is an area that we've targeted for future development. It's just been a challenge, but we've got some good prospects coming, and we think we'll be able to make a difference along that area," said Mac McLeod, director of Business & Commercial Development for the City of Montgomery.

It's a glimmer of hope for community leaders like Robinson who are rooting for this once vibrant part of town.

"You see everything going on with the One Center, the re-purposing of the old Montgomery Mall. They just re-purposed the old building for the new probate office, so there is some development happening in this part of town, and I think that's a start. We just need to continue that momentum," Robinson said.

You may have noticed there has been action taken to tear down the old Capitol Inn in downtown Montgomery. The city says private dollars are being used on that project.

City officials say they are working on a complete list of unsafe structures, and they hope to have it done by the end of the year.

There is a database online where you can search for all the property for sale owned by the Department of Revenue. You can search by address here.

Copyright 2016 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.