'Something that benefits Prince George' eyed for old Willow Inn site

The owners of a downtown property once home to a notorious trouble spot are mulling their options as a wrecking crew has moved in to tear down a derelict motel on the site.

With the help of heavy equipment, the Willow Inn at 1656 Victoria St. was being demolished this week.

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Veronica Espenhain and Chris Rickards bought the property in August, roughly six weeks after city council ordered the previous owner to level the building. The deadline for the work was the end of July, but with the sale in the offing, the city held off on imposing the order.

Espenhain said they have not yet decided on what they will do with the property but in an interview, she mentioned a professional building and a seniors' residence as possibilities.

If they go ahead with a professional building, Espenhain said she and Rickards would likely move their respective businesses to the address.

Espenhain owns Vanishings Laser Esthetics a few blocks to the west in the strip mall at 1611 15th Ave. and Rickards owns Concept Dental Centre at the corner of Victoria and Second.

"If it was a two-storey building, then we would be looking at having other tenants in there that are medical related," Espenhain said, noting that it's across the street from the Victoria Medical Building.

In answer to a "desperate need in Prince George," Espenhain said seniors housing is also being considered. Even a combination of medical services at street level and seniors housing above has been looked at, Espenhain said.

"There are so many options, but whatever we decide to do, whatever direction we decide to go, it will only improve Prince George and it will be something that the city, I'm sure, will be very, very happy with," Espenhain said.

If all works out, Espenhain and Rickards hope to see shovels in the ground in 12 to 18 months. In the interim, they want to convert the site into a park-like setting.

"Rather than just having page-wire fence around it, try and beautify it a little bit between now and the time any kind of development starts," Espenhain.

Also previously known as the Ranch Motel and the Homeland Inn, council pulled the business licence for the spot in 2014 in answer to concerns raised by the Prince George RCMP about drug dealing and other criminal activity. The owner, Phillip Danyluk, was given one year to bring the site back into compliance but failed to take any steps and the property has remained vacant.

A fire broke out in October 2018 and caused significant damage to the 20-unit motel. A notice was subsequently issued to have the site cleaned up but no action was taken.

Interestingly, on the day council issued the order, the owner emailed city staff asking for more time to deal with it.

"Our biggest thing is to propose to the city something that's really going to benefit Prince George," Espenhain said. "

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