Commonwealth Journal

February 3, 2014

Economy Inn demolition is making room for Somerset Nursing & Rehab expansion

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

And the walls came tumbling down.
As of this week, Economy Inn, which stood just off Monticello Street in Somerset, is no more than a memory. Heavy construction equipment and dump trucks were at the site Friday, Monday and Tuesday as the brick structure, which had been at the location in some form or another since 1943, was razed.
“It’s time to really improve our community,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler at the hotel site.
The city has big plans for the site, which is about two-and-a-half acres. In November 2013, city councilors voted to buy the hotel for $150,000 — a good deal, considering it assessed for $300,000 — and immediately began working toward a purchase agreement with Somerset Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility, which owns the adjacent property behind the motel. 
Once the motel is demolished, and the site cleaned of debris, the city will grade and seed the site, which will be a green space. The city has already entered into an agreement with Somerset Nursing and Rehab which will include the assisted living facility’s purchase of the site from the city for $150,000. After that, the facility is expected to invest millions in building an assisted living facility on the property.
Girdler has noted that the project is one of several where the City of Somerset has purchased blighted properties and transformed them into parks our used them for other beneficial purposes.
“For many, many years, people were asking ‘Can’t you do something with this place?’” said Girdler on Monday.
The motel was once called Somerset Court, and in its prime it served as lodging for a hosts of guests including businessmen, tourists, soldiers, travelers, etc.
In recent years, however, the motel had been considered a problematic location. One room was the site of a methamphetamine fire, and local authorities were often called there to reports of criminal activity, such as drug use and drug trafficking. 
“It wasn’t good for the city, and it definitely wasn’t good for the neighborhood,” said Girdler. 
Girdler said the city’s building inspectors and code enforcement officials had received hundreds of phone calls on the motel in just two years prior to its closing in late 2013. Reported issues included sewage problems, infestations, mold, and structural problems. 
The Economy Inn project is also a facet of the city’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) plan, which would effectively use city spending to generate revenue to retroactively pay for city infrastructural improvements.
Under a TIF plan, local and state governments would rebate as much as 80 percent of any new tax revenue that results from a development back to its own certain area. This tax money would pay for infrastructure work needed to create the development.
The idea arose from efforts to look for ways to fund a renovation of the Virginia Cinema, but it soon became apparent that TIF money could be used to engineer an overall downtown revitalization. 
Before the TIF plan becomes feasible, the city would need to make an investment of $20 million in project spending, allowing the city to issue revenue bonds.
The city is awaiting the green light from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding its planned $8.5 million energy center. Funding for the project would come from a loan through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Program.
The 36,200 square-foot structure will center on what is now a city parking lot.
As such, the energy center project represents almost half of the necessary spending benchmark, making it absolutely crucial to the TIF plan holding together.
But other pieces of the puzzle, including the Economy Inn project and a potential hotel at The Center for Rural Development, are necessary as well. 
Girdler said he and other city officials were grateful the motel’s former owners were so willing to work with the city through the purchase process — including finding suitable homes for those who were living there permanently. 
“It’s a question of where do the families go? Where do the children go?” said Girdler. 
Once that question was solved, the process sped up, and by Monday, little remained of the motel except for a few standing walls and a pile of debris. 
“It’s going to be a beautiful site,” said Girdler.