The historic Heritage House Hotel, in Albany, Georgia, is the subject of enormous local controversy, with some suggesting the hotel should be demolished in lieu of removing the asbestos which limits the building’s being repurposed for any other use.
This, at least, is the position of Ward I City Commissioner Jon Howard, who notes that Heritage House has been dilapidated for 15 years, and should be demolished as a public eyesore.
Others are not so sure, and the city fathers floated a redevelopment proposal on July 15, under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), called the Neighborhood Stabilization Program II, or NSP II, which seeks to spend $16 million to renovate the Albany neighborhood, which includes the historic hotel.
The renovation will be accomplished through a public/private partnership between the city and Romeo Comeau, the president and CEO of Greenbrier Holdings, LLC, who has over 30 years experience in the construction industry.
The proposed renovation will consist of two phases, the first involving the rehabilitation and repurposing of Heritage House into 90 units of affordable, multi-family, mixed-income housing. The second phase involves the deconstruction of four single-family homes and the construction of 70 units of senior housing. The total cost is estimated at $16 million, the funding to come from stimulus funds created, first, through the 2008 Housing and Economic Recovery Act, and recently expanded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The project is touted as rescuing a blighted building, and neighborhood, and creating jobs in recession-decimated Albany, population about 165,000, located about 175 miles due south of the capital city of Atlanta.
Located at 600 Oglethorpe Road, Heritage House is a former 120,000-square-foot, four-story, 227 room hotel located on 3.5 acres. Built in 1969, it likely contains all the asbestos of any building constructed before 1989, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limited asbestos in domestic products like insulation and floor and ceiling tiles to one percent or less by volume.
The building is currently valued at $6 million and the land at more than half a million. A realtor recently offered the entire package for $1.5 million, but the abandoned and shuttered property, with its asbestos burden, will likely cost as much to remediate the asbestos as the land is worth.
Asbestos, a fibrous mineral mined and widely used during the last century in a number of construction products, is implicated in a number of serious diseases, including asbestosis, lung and digestive system cancers, and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma, which most often occurs in the lungs as pleural mesothelioma (though it can also occur in the abdomen, as peritoneal mesothelioma, and around the heart, as pericardial mesothelioma), is a disease whose long latency period – up to five decades – results in the critical invasion of vital tissues by tumors.
This, in turn, leads to poor prognoses, with most victims given about a year to 18 months to live. In cases where the cancer is caught early, sufferers can survive five years (and more) with a regimen of aggressive treatments, including on occasion radical surgery.
The concern in Albany, Georgia, revolves not merely around the asbestos in Heritage House, but around the fact that developer Romeo Comeau and architect John Rivers have had liens filed against them by businesses outside Albany. This financial status may impact their ability to renovate the historic property, particularly in light of the asbestos burden.
On the other hand, with the city acting to insure that the renovation meets all federal asbestos guidelines – a monitoring that nets it $800,000 in fees if the funds are awarded – the city stands to gain even if the project isn’t completed on time or on budget. Unless the asbestos remediation/removal falls afoul of federal guidelines through inadequate supervision, in which case fines might eat up a large portion of the fee.
However, the same penalties could be enforced if the building is demolished without first having the asbestos removed according to EPA and Georgia Environmental Protection Division standards.
Sources: The University System of Georgia, The Albany Herald, City of Albany website, City of Dougherty website