Cleanup of fire site nears completion

Cleanup of fire site nears completion

DANVILLE — City crews will likely finish this week their cleanup of the rubble from the fire that destroyed the annex of the Oaklawn Inn more than a month ago.

Last week, public-works employees began sorting through and hauling away the mangled mess of building, and by Friday, more than half the lot had been cleared.

On June 2, a fire tore through the annex of the Oaklawn Inn, 1824 E. Main St. The annex and the hotel housed people both short and long term. No one was injured in the fire, but after the owners failed to meet a city-imposed deadline to clean up the site, city officials quickly took steps to ensure the massive pile of debris would be cleared. The city elected to use its own personnel and resources to clear the site and recover its costs later from the owner, Roger Patel.

Public Works Director Doug Ahrens said his department is tracking all of its expenses related to the cleanup and will create an invoice and forward that to the city's finance and legal departments for payment. Ahrens said he expects the cleanup to be finished by the first part or middle of this week.

In the meantime, other city departments continue to work with Patel on other issues with the main part of the Oaklawn Inn and another property across the street adjacent to the annex, the Danville Bar and Grill, 1827 E. Main St., which Patel also owns.

The Patel family voluntarily closed the bar and grill June 30 because the city denied its application to renew its liquor license.

Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said the Illinois Liquor Control Commission has been investigating the business, and a hearing has been scheduled on various citations. Thomason would not disclose any details about the citations issued by the commission, except that the business was cited for various violations pertaining to state taxes on alcoholic beverages. He said a hearing will be held on those citations, and the commission will make a ruling and level fines or other penalties.

Officials with the commission did not return calls from The News-Gazette seeking additional information about the investigation.

In addition to that investigation, the city shut down the main facility of the Oaklawn Inn on July 3, deeming it uninhabitable because of various code violations, and required the residents to find alternative housing. The Patels, who live above the hotel office, were allowed to stay, but all others had to vacate by noon July 4.

Danville police have been monitoring the property since then, not allowing anyone back in except former residents who need to retrieve their belongings. Some residents were housed in hotels temporarily until they could find alternative housing.

Prior to the fire at the Oaklawn annex, city officials had been working with Patel to abate code violations at the Oaklawn Inn, including a fire-alarm system that was not fully functional. According to city officials, once the inn's alarm system was determined to be out of compliance, Patel had to install a new system per city codes. The city gave Patel a deadline to, at minimum, identify and contract with a company to install a new fire-alarm system, and that deadline passed without the work being done or a contract settled, so the city shut down the hotel.

John Heckler, public development director for the city, said city inspectors are awaiting a call from Patel notifying the city that a new system is in place before the city will inspect it to be sure it meets codes and standards. Other code violations also must be addressed before the city will consider allowing the inn to re-open.

Heckler said the owner has told the city he is getting estimates for a new alarm system. And, Heckler said, he has received e-mails from at least two companies stating that they are in the process of giving the owner estimates.

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