Danville hotel owners say city not making fair offer to buy property

Danville hotel owners say city not making fair offer to buy property

DANVILLE — A Danville couple who have owned a motel on East Main Street for more than 30 years believe they have not been treated fairly by the city, which wants their property for public space and may pursue a buyout through the legal system.

"If they want it, they cannot snatch it," said Jayshri Patel, who has owned the American Inn at 1824 E. Main St., Danville, since 1983, along with her husband, Bhupendra Patel. "We work hard. We have spent our whole life here."

The Patels, who are nearing their 70s, said they want a fair price for their property and their business, which is their residence and their livelihood. She said that generally, hotels sell for four times their annual income, but that's not what the city has offered them.

Neither the Patels nor city officials would disclose the offered price, but Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said the city had the property appraised and offered that amount. He would not say whether the appraisal took into consideration the value of both the property and the business or just the property.

"The reality is they can own a hotel anywhere. We are not buying their business," Eisenhauer said. "The city doesn't want the business. ... They will still own all that. We are buying the property."

It has been two years that the city has been trying to buy the 30-plus-room motel, which has both short-term and long-term rates and houses some veterans and homeless individuals, some placed there through the Salvation Army. It borders the Veterans Affairs medical campus at 1900 E. Main St., and Danville Area Community College is nearby at 2000 E. Main St.

The city wants the property because it has a plan for redeveloping several blocks of East Main, and part of its design calls for leveling the American Inn and making it a public space that would feature amenities such as a trail head, parking and green space, according to Eisenhauer.

Last month, a couple of aldermen objected to taking the property for the purpose of making a park, and the council decided to delay the eminent domain vote and gather more information on the issue.

Since then, Eisenhauer said, city administration continues to try to negotiate a buyout with the Patels, and the city is allowing them time to prepare additional information prior to another meeting, which has not yet been scheduled. He added that the council will not revisit a vote on eminent domain until after a meeting with the Patels.

The Patel's daughter, Ami Patel, 34, of Danville, said the city's offer was very low, but she also would not disclose the amount.

"We want a fair value. We want them to account for what is a fair value for someone who has worked 24-7 for over 34 years," said Ami Patel, who grew up in the family residence above the motel. "I can't tell you the last time they had a vacation; they are always there."

She added that the amount offered wouldn't cover even half her parents' bills, so if they lose the property, they would have nothing left over and nothing for retirement.

In a letter supporting the Patels, Sharon Sawka, social services director at the Salvation Army in Danville, said that over the last 20 years, the American Inn has been "a great asset" to their homeless program, which helped 649 people put a roof over their heads last year. She said it would be a great loss if the hotel closed, because the agency would no longer have that resource to serve the indigent.

"It just doesn't make sense to make people who serve the homeless homeless," Ami Patel said, referring to her parents.

Tony Alesi, who stays long-term at the American Inn and does maintenance for the Patels, said the inn serves a lot of veterans who don't have housing or transportation, and they can easily walk next door to the VA for appointments.

Ami Patel said she and her parents feel as if they have been bullied by the city.

In 2012, a motel annex across Main Street burned down. Occupants escaped injury, but the city shut down the hotel for code violations, including fire alarm issues. Changes were made, and it reopened. Ami Patel said her parents have met every requirement of city officials through the years, even spending money on fire alarm upgrades that weren't required.

The Patels also owned a former bar and grill across the street that closed, and the city eventually tore down the vacant building for blight reasons at the cost of the city, Eisenhauer said. Ami Patel said the city didn't give her parents time to respond before razing that structure, which they contend was not a dangerous building.

At last month's meeting, some aldermen said the American Inn has had issues with drugs and crime, but the Patels adamantly deny that, saying that their motel is safe, they don't tolerate such issues and bar anyone who causes problems. Jayshri Patel said they have security cameras and monitor the property closely.

Ami Patel said her dad has a chemistry degree from the University of Tennessee, but he fell in love with the American dream of owning a business when he bought the motel 34 years ago. She said the neighborhood around the business has changed a lot since she was a kid and would walk to friends' houses. She said her parents don't drink or do drugs, are strict and don't tolerate those behaviors from others at their motel.

"We give people who don't normally have a chance a chance, and if they break our rules, we ban them," she said, adding that her parents are always monitoring who is coming and going from the property. "It's really interesting on that side of town. You really do have to be compassionate, strong and strict. You literally have to get to know people. It's actually a safety precaution that we get to know who's staying with us and get to know their good and their bad habits. It's all kind of based on getting to know people, like a community."

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