As the deadline nears to demolish the old downtown Kent Hotel, developers and would-be developers are lining up to get their hands on the structure, or at least the downtown property on which it sits.
Portage County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Kainrad recently issued a journal entry and order finding hotel owner Joseph Bujack in contempt of court for failing to raze the hotel. The order is dated March 1 and gives Bujack 30 days to raze the hotel, noted Assistant Law Director Tom Reitz in a memo this week. If not, Bujack will face a $1,000 per day fine for every day the hotel remains standing.
Reitz said in his memo that Bujack probably would appeal the ruling and ask for a stay. The city would argue against the stay and once the appeal time has run out, the city could ask the court for authority to raze the hotel if no stay is granted, as well as a lien on the property in the amount of the city's cost of demolition.
Bujack previously had offered the building to Family and Community Services of Portage County, which was to turn the building over to the city temporarily. Eventually, the building would have been turned over to the Portage Area Development Corporation, which would have obtained funding to rehabilitate the structure to house apartments and retail. But the city backed out of the deal last week, saying the building presented too much of a liability to the city.
Community Development director Charley Bowman said both he and Mark Frisone of Family and Community Services have been fielding calls from people wanting to step in.
He said the calls have come from developers and residents who want to be developers. At least one is interested in a historic rehabilitation project, and another wants to raze the building and put a store on the property, he said.
Mary Jo Olesky and Lawrence Barbee say they want to obtain the building and turn it into a hotel again. Olesky is training to become an interior designer and Barbee is starting his own remodeling business.
"It's a landmark," Olesky said. "You can see it from anywhere you are in downtown Kent."
She said she has heard estimates of up to $2.5 million for the project, and she expects to pay the cost out of her own funds, at least initially. However, she said, she was shocked when Bujack's lawyer, Robert Paoloni, said he wanted $300,000 to $400,000 for the building.
She said she is checking into financing and insurance issues, and is forming a business plan with the help of the Small Business Development Center.
She envisioned the rehabilitation being done through a combination of contractors and volunteer labor.
"I was told it was a fortress," she said. "It's going to be standing for a long time. It's just getting the brick to stay put."
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