CLARKSVILLE — The Clarksville Redevelopment Commission has formalized its intent to buy the America's Best Inn and Suites property on Eastern Boulevard and 11 other sites on the block through a resolution passed Tuesday.
At a special meeting, the commission voted to move forward in acquiring land in what's known as the Eastern Boulevard Gateway Redevelopment Area — the hotel property for $4.8 million, three properties along Kopp Lane for a total of $566,000 and eight others along Eastern Boulevard, Kopp Lane and Auburn Avenue for undetermined prices.
"Since the early 2000s, various administrations have expressed interest in acquiring said property due to its location as an entry point the the Clarksville corridor off of Interstate 65," Redevelopment Commission President A.D. Stonecipher stated during the meeting, reading from a statement. "Last summer, our staff indicated [that] the current owner might be willing to sell the lot and its longstanding hotel through private negotiated sale."
At a public meeting in June 2018, the commission set up a private land trust through a company based in Indianapolis to negotiate with the hotel. Stonecipher said following the meeting that the creation of the land trust was important to get the best deal.
"Using a land trust was important because any time a municipality starts discussing with a landowner about a potential sale, prices go up," he said. "So we wanted to be sure that we were protecting taxpayer dollars by getting the best deal that we could."
News of the hotel sale broke last week, and the owner, Rivers Edge Investments, confirmed it was selling to an Indianapolis-based investor. Clarksville soon after announced plans to buy the property.
Stonecipher said the town was prevented from discussing the plans before now, due to non-disclosure agreements. Once the closings are done, town staff will move forward with talking with prospective developers about potential plans.
"I think our duty as a commission next is just to make sure that whatever is ultimately done with the property is done in a way that taxpayers are going to get a return on that investment, because it's a big investment," he said.
He acknowledged that an unintended consequence of the sale of the hotel has been the imminent displacement of nearly 150 people — 87 adults and 61 children — who have been living long-term at the hotel, some for years. The residents and staff were given 30 days' notice to vacate on June 19, two days after the sale was finalized.
Stonecipher said it was not the town's decision or action to give residents that date, and said it will likely be August before the town assumes control of the properties.
"The recent decision by this property owner requiring patrons to exit this motel by [July 19] was the sole discretion of the current property owner," he said during the meeting.
On Monday, the newly formed Homeless Prevention Task Force met with most of the longtime hotel residents to determine their situations, including their age and family and marital status, if they had any felony convictions, any addictions or health issues, employment status and income.
What they found was that about half of the residents were employed, and 34 of the families make $1,080 per month or more, but all but 18 of them have evictions on their history — which can be a big barrier in getting into a more traditional living situation.
The task force has been collecting funds for the residents all week, and had gathered approximately $17,000 as of Tuesday evening. It has also passed the demographic information onto state leaders who are seeking what resources may be available to help. But the funding so far, while appreciated, may only scratch the surface of what's needed, said Jim Moon, pastor at Park Memorial United Methodist Church.
"We're kind of in a starvation situation right now," he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. "We're going to have to use what resources we have to move the most qualified," he said. "Which means women with children under 6, and the infirm first."
During public comment at the Clarksville Town Council meeting Tuesday following the special redevelopment commission meeting, Moon updated the council on residents' needs, and requested that the council contribute $30,000.
Though the council did not discuss the request Tuesday, Stonecipher, also on the council, had addressed it during and after the redevelopment meeting.
He said the fact of the large amount of people living in the hotel has "started an important regional discussion," and that he and other town representatives have been in talks with community organizations and partners the past two weeks.
He said he and other members will be planning to donate as private citizens, and encouraging others and local churches to assist with the funding. However he could not say whether the town as a municipality will be.
"I'm glad to hear we have a strong start to the fundraising through churches and private individuals," he said, adding that "at this time, the council only has one fund from which potential taxpayer funds could be used to match those donations and at this time, I don't know that the council has the political will to do that.
"I'm sure ongoing conversations will ensue."