The city of Lumberton has a very large problem to deal with — and, like a wart on the tip of one’s nose, it’s difficult to disguise.
City officials for a long time have been grappling with what to do with the abandoned Ramada Inn property, 5.3 acres just off Roberts Avenue at the Interstate 95 exchange — an incredibly important piece of real estate. That stretch of highway is the busiest entry point into the city, with vehicles arriving not only from I-95 but the well-traveled N.C. 211, and the property is not a good look for anyone who glances northward.
That is one reason why the city has been boarding up the 73,000-square-foot building, at least what remains of it, with plywood, which is obviously a cosmetic approach that has little value in the long run. Another is to keep out vagrants, who have caused incredible damage to the property, making it unsafe as well as ugly.
The city had big plans for the property: Secure a grant, knock down the building, clean up the mess, and then turn it over to the owner on the condition it be redeveloped. If it weren’t, the property would have become the city’s.
The owner of the property, Harry Jhala, has indicated he has businesses ready to come in.
While some social media warriors have insisted that demolition and cleanup is the responsibility of the owner of the land, the cost is almost certainly prohibitive, with it rounding off at about a half million dollars.
The city expected demolition to occur months ago, but ran into a problem. Because part of the the property is in a flood zone, the grant has not been approved. The city, as outlined in a page 1A story today by staff writer Chris Stiles, is ad-libbing, trying to get the property surveyed again, but this time excluding the area in the flood zone.
If that fails, then the city has said it will move forward with condemning the property, which would be, as it should, a last resort. Should that happen, the presumption is that the city would demolish it, clean it up, and do all that with taxpayer money. Once accomplished, the land would again be prime real estate that could probably fetch a nice dollar and be redeveloped.
The Ramada Inn property isn’t alone as a standing monument to the damage inflicted by Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 8, 2016. There are abandoned buildings across the county, but mostly in and near Lumberton, including businesses and homes that are increasingly in disrepair, and for which there are no plans.
They include the abandoned Public Schools of Robeson County central office, which is just west of Interstate 95, and of course the abandoned West Lumberton Elementary School building in that community. We have yet to hear what plans there are for one, the other, or both.
Lumberton, at least, has a plan — and that is to put back to work this piece of real estate so that it will again be a contributor to the local economy. We know people like to play the blame game, but in this instance, point a finger not at the city, not at the property’s owner, but at Matthew.
Three-and-a-half years after that hurricane, we continue as a community to struggle to step out of its long and dark shadow.