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The historic Hotel Aiken has become a cold war of sorts, with burgeoning disputes on the fronts of alleged blight, public safety and the endurance of hospitality ventures in the age of coronavirus and collapsed industries.
The multimillion-dollar Hotel Aiken modernization and corporate facelift, unveiled to much pomp and circumstance three years ago, remains unfinished. Project representatives and city officials this week confirmed construction there has yet to begin again – a point that has seemingly pitted those worried about the aging building’s condition, and downtown repercussions, against Historic Hospitality LLC and the Shah family, the ownership.
In an August letter, then-Aiken Municipal Development Commission Chairman Tim Dangerfield described the status of the hotel as hazardous to public well-being. It poses a significant fire risk, Dangerfield wrote to the mayor and Aiken City Council, and, more broadly, represents “a clear and present danger of irreversible blight.”
“The Hotel Aiken property has become essentially abandoned and partially demolished in preparation for an announced but, as yet, much-delayed renovation and reopening under the badge of a nationally-recognized hospitality brand,” he argued Aug. 17, emphasizing that “immediate steps” must be taken.
Historic Hospitality LLC, headquartered near the hotel, and the Shah family have vehemently rejected Dangerfield’s assessment, suggesting that coverage and publication of the letter without further inquiry as to its veracity has “unfairly harmed the business and personal reputations of the owners of Hotel Aiken,” among other grievances.
Dangerfield’s missive, the two jointly said in a nearly 900-word Thursday statement to the Aiken Standard, was grandiose, discriminatory and pockmarked by opinion. It foisted “unreasonable demands” upon Mayor Rick Osbon and his fellow City Council members, the ownership continued, while ignoring surrounding circumstances.
“The owners of Hotel Aiken have coordinated closely with the local authorities and with city leadership in order to comply with all applicable codes and ordinances and have gone above and beyond what is required by code in the interest of public safety,” a principal with Richard Rauh & Associates Architecture is quoted as saying in the statement. “This began two years ago and continues to the current date.”
While there is no working sprinkler system at the hotel, the owners said, there are heat detectors and alarm and video systems, each of which is monitored.
Both the mayor and City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said the Aiken Department of Public Safety is in touch with the Hotel Aiken ownership. City and project executives last month toured the hotel site, on the prominent corner of Laurens Street and Richland Avenue.
(The full response to the Aiken Standard’s inquiry, submitted Tuesday, is available below as a PDF.)
The Hotel Aiken ownership in an Aug. 8 statement, also hundreds of words long, said “work on” the hotel had ceased – an apparent victim of the devastating coronavirus crisis.
“We were approximately 4-weeks from submitting for a permit before the governor declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19,” the months-old statement reads.