Fayetteville Mountain Inn project moves slowly, draws city concern

The Mountain Inn is seen Friday near the intersection of College Avenue and Center Street in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- 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.

Still, the property's owner has reached out to a local architecture firm to begin concept designs and an evaluation of the existing building, said city development services director Jeremy Pate and attorney Mark Carney, the registered agent of property owner NWAP LLC. The project continues steadily, if slowly, Carney said.


The Mountain Inn

• 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.

Source: Staff report

"It's very early in the process, but we've got some stuff that we think could make some sense," Carney said Friday, pointing to a possible mix of hotel, retail and office space on the 1-acre site. "But we're still a long ways away from blueprints or stuff like that."

Representatives of NWAP, the Mountain Home company that bought the old inn in June 2014, said at the time the owner hoped to use the building and the adjacent parking lot as the footprint for a hotel, condominium and retail project. The building's crumbling gray exterior walls and boarded windows for years have faced South College Avenue and Center Street as they funnel traffic along the city's heart, so the Chamber of Commerce and others cheered the announcement.

The buyer's real estate agent in 2014 cautioned construction could take two years to start, and for the moment, the walls are still crumbling. City officials earlier this month told the company it must repair parts of the structure and make sure people can't get in or else face possible legal action.

"It is our opinion that it will require extensive remodeling in order to make this a viable structure and enhance the value of the property," Matthew Cabe, a city building examiner, wrote in a Jan. 4 letter to Mark Carney, a Mountain Home lawyer and NWAP's registered agent. He added falling debris and other problems could be grounds for the City Council to declare the property a public nuisance, meaning it's dangerous or affects people or businesses nearby.

At that point, the city could hire a contractor to fix the property or order the building be razed if it's in bad enough condition, charging the owners with a lien on the property. In a reply Jan. 22, Carney asked for 90 days to send someone from Mountain Home to look at the property and figure out how long it'll take to either secure the building or tear it down.

"As my client has not decided yet as to the future development of the property, it is more inclined to safeguard the property temporarily in order to leave all of the options open," Carney wrote. He added Friday the property owners, who remain anonymous, had re-secured it several times and would do so again as well as they can.

The city hadn't formally responded to Carney's 90-day request last week, but Pate said 90 days was probably too long. Still, the building's skeleton is sturdier than the exterior might suggest, Pate added, and it's not in imminent danger of falling. He and the mayor receive steady complaints about the building, but it doesn't fall under any strictly aesthetic code, Pate said.

"Every time we've done an inspection, it appears the structure is sound," he said. "We're concerned that, with further deterioration, some of the structural integrity could begin to suffer. So far, what we've seen is it really needs to be secured."

City fire and building officials last went to the building in August, Pate said. The owner fixed the issues raised then, but the city's January letter said others remain or have gotten worse. A section of the top floor's south wall is missing, which the city said allows weather and birds inside.

Delays and uncertainty are nothing new with the Mountain Inn. It operated for decades, but has been vacant since the late 1990s. The Bank of Fayetteville paid $1.25 million for the foreclosed property in late 2013 after East Square Development, whose primary investors were John Nock and Richard Alexander, defaulted on a $3.9 million loan for the property.

Nock and Alexander had plans for a high-rise hotel and condo project called the Renaissance Tower, but nothing was built. The developers in 2005 demolished the Mountain Inn Motor Lodge, leaving the smaller structure that still stands.

Nathan Sutherland-Kordsmeier, general manager at the Damgoode Pies pizza restaurant immediately next door to the inn, said at one point someone taking shelter in the structure started a fire, highlighting the importance of making sure people can't get in. More generally, the building's an "embarrassing" blight at the entrance of Fayetteville, he said, especially for visitors heading to Razorback games or elsewhere.

"That's one of the first prominent things that they see," Sutherland-Kordsmeier said, adding he's lost faith that anything will ever be done about it. "Somebody has planned to do something with it since I was a little kid."

Across Center Street at With Home Supply, co-owners and twin sisters Rebekah and Sarah Fess said the worst part of seeing the building every day was knowing how much potential it has. If it's restored, it could be a great piece of a thriving street, they said.

"If you can look past it, it's gorgeous," Rebekah Fess said, adding she wished she could restore it herself.

The owners hope to save some of the structure, Carney said -- particularly the entrance area that still holds painted archways and other architectural details hidden behind the upright particle boards.

"That's what the architecture firm is working around," Carney said, declining to identify the firm. Pate said he talked to the firm Friday morning during a meeting about other downtown development, but the firm asked to remain unnamed because it's in the early phases of the work.

"Sometimes those come to fruition and sometimes they don't," Pate said. "We told them we'd honor that request."

NW News on 02/01/2016