CASPER, Wyo. — The Econo Lodge on F Street has been condemned after a sweep of the defunct hotel by city officials on Wednesday revealed extensive water damage and evidence of unchecked access by transients, according to city officials.
In a statement to Oil City News, Mayor Bruce Knell said the building hasn’t operated as a hotel since around last November.
Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters said his understanding was that operations had been affected by the exceptional winter conditions.
Knell said that damaged water lines had frozen and burst, flooding one floor and submerging the electrical switch panel. Knell said he’d heard an estimate of $3.2 million just for cleanup — rehab would need another quote entirely.
That estimate also does not include the extensive damage apparently caused by what McPheeters called ”free-roaming activity to the detriment of the property.”
Knell estimated there were about 300 rooms.
“They have destroyed this business,” Knell said. “It broke my heart to see.” Knell said he saw drug paraphernalia and the wanton destruction of furnishings.
“You cannot wrap your head around what happened to that hotel,” Knell said.
The sweep was conducted Wednesday after police officials investigated an unsecured access point and found two people who were arrested for trespassing.
While on scene, police saw evidence the problem was more widespread, and a sweep of the entire complex began, McPheeters said. Two more people were found inside and arrested during the midday sweep. At least five unchecked access points were identified Wednesday.
McPheeters said that significant police resources have been expended patrolling and responding to crimes in the area in recent months. He added that he made contact with a representative for the landlord and impressed upon them that it was the owner’s responsibility to maintain security.
The Econo Lodge — formerly branded as the Ramada and before that, the Holiday Inn — is not the only vacant building persistently accessed in an unauthorized manner. When asked if vacant buildings correlate with criminal activity, McPheeters said, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”
Furthermore, the vacant building presents a health and fire hazard, and not just to those who break in.
“This is absolutely a public safety issue,” McPheeters said.
Knell said the city fire marshal signed a condemnation order that gives the owners 60 days to bring the building up to code, a prospect he deems unlikely.
Knell identified Celtic Bank in Salt Lake City as the mortgage holder, and said the building is in foreclosure.
Highend Hotel Group of America LLC is listed as the applicant on the business license on the Wyoming Secretary of State’s website. The phone number for the contact agent leads to a call that cannot be completed.
The sweep came the day after the Casper City Council spent over two hours discussing the persistent problem of homeless people in the city, many of whom are sent to Casper by other agencies for short-term admission to mental and behavioral health facilities, then released.
Downtown business leaders have also told the council the situation has led to unsafe encounters and other activities detrimental to the public interest.
The City of Casper formed a Homeless Coalition late last summer made up of representatives from downtown business leaders, service agencies and health organizations, city councilors and city department representatives.
McPheeters and Knell agreed that there are plentiful resources, such as the Wyoming Rescue Mission, to ensure that no one needs sleep on the streets of Natrona County — provided, Knell added, that the guests comply with those organizations’ house rules.