After two decades of gently nudging the owners of Ukiah's historic Palace Hotel to rehabilitate the decaying, vine-covered building in the heart of downtown, frustrated city officials are considering using force.
They are contemplating reinstating the Ukiah Redevelopment Agency's power of eminent domain, which expired nine years ago for lack of use.
Eminent domain would give the city the power to force the 119-year-old hotel's Marin County owners to either rehabilitate the property or sell it to the city, which could then sell it to someone with a concrete plan to do something with the vacant three-story building that dominates a half-block on Ukiah's main drag.
Officials and downtown business leaders say eminent domain could be a useful, last-ditch tool to convince real estate agents Eladia Laines and Mike Leddy to step up or give up.
“It's a leverage factor,” said Ukiah photographer Tom Liden, a member of Friends of the Palace, a group that is urging the city to take action.
After 20 years of trying to work with Laines and Leddy, including conducting at least five studies that have cost the city thousands of dollars, it may be time to wield a disincentive for doing nothing, officials say.
“We want to get the owners involved with the city on a regular, credible basis,” said Ukiah City Councilwoman Mary Anne Landis, who is on a committee that is investigating eminent domain.
Laines and Leddy did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
They have periodically made gestures of fixing up the landmark, most recently last year when they hosted a wine and cheese gathering to show off plans for a remodel that included condominiums and businesses.
Over the years, they've also boarded up broken windows, added some paint and repaired a fire sprinkler system, just enough to keep the Palace from being declared a public safety hazard, which can lead to demolition.
After last year's showing, Laines and Leddy disappeared from public view. They've been out of contact with city officials and Friends of the Palace — formed to support rehabilitation efforts — for about eight months.