ST. MARTIN, MS (WLOX) - A dangerous St. Martin eyesore is about to come down after years of legal wrangling and failed efforts by county officials to get the property owner to clean it up.
Almost five years ago, the Howard Johnson Hotel was consumed by fire. Since then, it's become a dangerous eyesore. The building is wide open. Anyone can walk in. Graffiti covers the walls. A pool is filled with rancid water, and debris is scattered throughout the property.
Seeing it come down is a blessing for county Supervisor Troy Ross, who oversees the district.
"I'm thrilled that we can actually do something with this building. It's been a long time. It's been frustrating, and to know that we can actually award a contract to tear this building down, it's refreshing," Ross exclaimed.
Getting to this point has taken a long time, and nearby business owners are still a bit skeptical. One of them is Dr. Lisa Wilkerson, who runs a veterinary clinic next door.
"Well, I'm excited that three's word that it's going to come down. But, to me, it's all talk right now. I won't believe it until there's action taken. It's time. It's an eyesore. It's a nuisance, and it's dangerous," Wilkerson said.
When the owner of the hotel wouldn't clean it up, so the property was declared a public menace. But, the demolition process won't happen overnight, according to county planning director Michele Coats.
"We hope he's going to be able to take it down bit by bit and be able to dispose of a little bit of it as well, too. Then, we'll finish up what doesn't get done this year hopefully next year, right after the first of the year," Coats explained.
Not only is this hotel dangerous and a total eyesore and drain on other property values in the area, it's also something else. It's a drain on the sheriff's department manpower, trying to police the place.
"It's a haven for illicit activity, drug use, abuse, teenagers, and all sorts of issues that come up out there. This is going to be good, not only for law enforcement, it's going to be good for the community," Sheriff Mike Ezell said.
So, what happens once it's gone?
"Exit 50 is a prime location for a lot of commercial development, and I think it's limitless what we can get in that area," said Ross.
At this point, that's all everyone is hoping for.
R&A Construction was awarded the bid to tear down the hotel and haul away as much debris as possible. The legal billing limit against the property owner is $20,000, but county officials say they can come back after the first of the year and award another contract for the rest of the debris removal, again billing the property owner the $20,000 legal limit.