Forest Beach property owners want action on abandoned building

Manager says renovations or sale is on the way

astice@islandpacket.comJune 10, 2013 

Forest Beach property owners want Hilton Head Island officials to tear down or force the owners to fix up an abandoned building owned by the Metropolitan Hotel.

Tenants and owners at the neighboring Oceanwalk Villas have complained about the building on Lemoyne Avenue behind the hotel because of its dilapidated appearance. They are also have safety concerns after fire inspectors determined the property violated several codes, according to former Oceanwalk board president Bruce Bartow, who owns two Oceanwalk condos.

Oceanwalk, which recently underwent $1 million in renovations, shares a wall with the building, which has been vacant for about five years.

The building is full of furniture and other discarded items. The Town of Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division has issued four citations so far this year, each for more than $1,000.

It was cited twice in April and twice more in June after its managers failed to remove combustibles, fix the alarms or add sprinklers, division spokeswoman Joheida Fister said.

'MAJOR PLANS'

Hotel general manager Chris Roberts said changes are on the way for both the Metropolitan Hotel on South Forest Beach Drive and the vacant building. He declined to comment on the fire-code violations, except to say that sprinkler systems are being installed.

The property's owner, H2 Associates, has put the vacant building and hotel up for sale. Roberts said the property will either have new owners, or he will begin renovating it within the next 30 days.

A business plan on file with the Town of Hilton Head Island calls for renovating the 78-room hotel and converting the vacant annex into a hostel or housing for foreign students on work visas, Roberts said.

However, Forest Beach residents say that while plans to upgrade the hotel and the vacant building have been talked about for years, little has been accomplished. The business plan has been on file with the town since late 2012.

Roberts acknowledged that when he was hired three years ago, the hotel was in rough shape, in part because the general manager position had been vacant for a year. Roberts said money has been tight, but the rooms, which cost $79 to $99 a night, have been refurbished, and he has replaced the staff. The Metropolitan has gone through several name and ownership changes in the past five years. Another name change may be on the way if it moves forward with remodeling, Roberts said.

'LIMITED TOOLS'

Town officials say they're aware of residents' concerns.

Town Councilman George Williams, who represents the area, said the town has "limited tools" to address problems with the vacant building.

Bob Klein, the town's director of building and fire codes, said he sends an inspector to the site once a week to check to make sure on one is getting in it. A sign on the door warns intruders to stay out.

"We didn't want vagrants getting in there, and that's what was happening," Klein said.

He said the building is structurally sound, so he can't recommend it be condemned.

Town attorney Brian Hulbert said he is also "very familiar" with the neighbors' complaints, including overflowing trash in an outdoor bin and shoddy landscaping near the vacant building. When codes enforcement officers check out the complaints, Hulbert said, Roberts resolves them on the spot -- even cleaning up a nearby alley that is not part of the property.

Hulbert said most of the complaints come from Oceanwalk condo owners who believe the abandoned building is lowering their property values.

Forest Beach Owners Association president Jack Daly said he hopes the recent fire-safety citations will lead to action.

"Now that it's a safety problem, we really hope it gives the town and the fire marshal the courage to step and say, 'You have to fix this,'" Daly said.

A hearing on the fire code violations is scheduled for June 21 in Hilton Head Municipal Court.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/IPBG_Allison.

Related content:

To check out the business plan for renovating the Metropolitan Hotel and repurposing the vacant building behind it, click here.

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