City wants second chance to work with Ormsby House owners

Owners of the Ormsby House agreed Monday to meet with city officials to talk about how the city might help keep the hotel and casino project alive, instead of facing a demolition.

Admitting the need to improve how the city works with a renovation project of this size, city officials sent a letter to owners Don Lehr and Al Fiegehen Monday asking them to reconsider demolishing the 10-story structure.

Owners cited frustration with city regulations last week as the reason for deciding to tear down the 30-year-old structure. Work to gut and renovate the hotel and casino has reached $8 million in the past two years, and it would cost an additional $1 million to demolish it, the owners said.

Metcalf Builders stopped work on the project Friday after filing an application with the city for demolition. Company owner Tom Metcalf said he hadn't received word as of late Monday afternoon from the owners to do anything differently.

Fiegehen said he spoke with city officials Monday, but didn't make promises. He and Lehr will meet with the officials and are interested in changes that would help all contractors do projects in the city, Fiegehen said.

"If their intention is to really do something to help the developers in this town then I'm all for it. But if they're just trying to do a special favor for the Ormsby House, they can forget it," Fiegehen said.

Closed in October 2000, the landmark hotel-casino was expected to undergo a nine-month, $10 million-to-$13 million overhaul to convert it into a five-star establishment.

City Manager Linda Ritter, redevelopment and economic development manager Joe McCarthy and city supervisors Pete Livermore and Robin Williamson held a press conference Monday explaining the city's intention to work with the owners.

"We completely misread their level of frustration, but we're going to get better and hopefully there'll be an Ormsby House," Williamson said.

Ritter said city staff is taking a look at the project and has rewritten a "to-do" checklist that simplifies some of the requirements asked of the project. A traffic study will not be required, for instance.

Some of the items required by the city are samples of the pavers to be used in the landscaping, street lighting that matched downtown lighting and state right-of-way permits.

Also, the city found that part of the building is in the public right-of-way, and owners need to go through a process with the city for abandonment, Ritter said.

City officials are offering to assign its chief building official, Phil Herrington, to the project as an exclusive liaison and are looking for ways the city can pay for landscaping and facade improvements with redevelopment incentive funding. A project built in the downtown redevelopment district can apply for up to $100,000 in city funding.

"We want the project to go forward," Ritter said. The city is seeking to improve the process for projects of this size in the future, she said.

"It's a learning experience with everything you do," Livermore said. "It's a property and a project too valuable to look at it and walk away and let things fall to pieces. It's very important to us."

Fiegehen and Lehr will meet with the city Friday.


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