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Motel owner feels singled out by city

Published on 30th July 2016
Hotel owner feels singled out by the city
Frank Johnson says he wants to do the right thing with his hotel, and cooperate with the city, but he thinks the city is making it harder than it has to be.
Last week he was given an additional 45 days to get a structural engineer study done, and to make needed repairs on the Chilsholm Trail Hotel on Eighth Street.
“I have tried to do the right thing,” he said. “It is just taking time to get things done.”
The city has said the building looks unsound and there are problems with the cement walkway around the second floor of the building. He was told to get a structural engineer study done, and was given 90 days to do that, and it didn’t get done. He did however, have letters from engineers saying the problem was just the concrete walkway and it did not appear there needed to be a complete study done. Johnson feels the problem is the concrete walkway itself, and not the building, that has problems.
The complete study would cost between $5,000 and $8,000. Johnson said he will do it, but he isn’t sure even that will be good enough for the city.
“They just have zero tolerance for anything,” he said of the city’s building code office. “It’s like they don’t want the business here.”
Last week the city council told him to show he had financing to get the work done and they would give him an extension. He presented a letter from a bank that said it was considering lending him the money and that led the council to giving him another extension.
City officials say Johnson has not gotten things done quickly enough, but they also say they don’t want to see the hotel shut down and sitting empty.
Mayor Shelley Hansel said she hopes Johnson can get things fixed up.
“We did reluctantly give him an extension,” she said. “I want it to be a success but he needs to get things done.”
City code inspector Aaron Norton was not in favor of the extension, feeling the city had made enough of an effort to get him in compliance.
But at the meeting last week council member Kip Etter pointed out that if they shut the business down they will have an even worse problem with an empty building.
Johnson started managing the building in 2009 and bought it outright in 2012 with a partner. That partner has since left town and Johnson said he was left in a financial bind.
But he said he has made a lot of improvements on the building, and at the meeting last week council members agreed with that assessment. He has refurbished all the rooms, put on a new roof and many other big items.
The business is also doing well. Five years ago it was grossing less than $100,000 a year, and now it is grossing $270,000.
Johnson said the place was bad when he got there, and now he believes he has turned it into the best hotel in town.  He just wants the city to give him more time to get things done.
He has closed off the rooms that have the cement walkway on the second floor, and he agrees that needs to be replaced. He has a told of 39 rooms, and even with that area closed off, he still has 23 he can rent.
He wants to get the work started, and has some of that lined up, but the requirement of a structural study slows that process down.
He said if the structural engineer says other things need to be done, the work may have to start over.
Norton’s position was, that it is not known whether there are structural problems or not, and he feels it is a safety issue, which is why he wants the structural study.
Johnson said there are no cracks in the walls and he doesn’t think there are serious structural problems.
He said business has been a little slow, but it is much better than it was before he took over.
He has a stack of letters from customers who enjoyed their stay at the hotel, and he said he has a lot of repeat business. He added that no one has ever been hurt at the facility.
He feels the city is not being reasonable and not being business friendly.
“I have never said the repairs did not need to be done. It just shouldn’t be this hard,” he said.