Fire officials hope for quick demolition of vacant motel on Indy’s south side

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis fire officials are hoping to work with other city leadership in an effort to speed up the process of tearing down a vacant motel that has been the scene of at least 10 fires since January 2020.

A Decatur Township firefighter was seriously injured while helping to fight a fire Friday night at the former Best Inn Motel, located at 4505 S. Harding St. Decatur Township fire officials say the firefighter has been released from a hospital and is now recovering at home.

That was the ninth fire at the empty motel over the last 15 months. On Sunday evening, fire crews were back at the property for the 10th.

All 10 fires are believed to have been started by squatters who come and go through the empty motel on a daily basis.

“Whether it’s revenge, anger, boredom, whatever their reasoning may be, it’s become an issue that’s putting us at risk,” said Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Rita Reith.

In late December, the Indianapolis Department of Business and Neighborhood Services (BNS) issued an emergency order for demolition of the large, vacant building. The first court hearing in the matter is scheduled for March 30.

City-County Council member Joshua Bain, who represents the district where the motel is located, says demolition of the property can’t come soon enough.

“The fact that they’ve had to go there 10 times in the past year is unacceptable,” Bain said. “The fact of the matter is this probably should have been done a long time ago, and I’m hoping that now is better than never.”

However, due to the legal process in demolition proceedings, it could be more than a year before the former motel is actually torn down. Such cases typically require multiple court hearings, which can be several months apart. Once an administrative law judge affirms a demolition order, it is then considered for a demolition bid package. The city typically selects about 30 structures each quarter for demolition, according to BNS spokesperson Brandi Pahl.

“Once a demo bid package has been determined, it usually takes two months for the entire bid/contract process,” Pahl said in a statement.  

Testing for asbestos must also take place and is normally done at the same time as the bid-contract process. Demotion can take 30 to 90 days once the process begins.

“It’s important to keep in mind that all demolition projects by the city are contingent on budget and time constraints, as well as Indiana unsafe building code and Indiana procurement code,” Pahl continued. “This is also not going to be a typical demolition project due to the size and scope of what will need to be done.”

Reith said IFD officials are hoping to work with other city officials to speed up the process in a case like the Best Inn Motel, where public safety is at risk. She says everyone involved in conversations so far have been on the same page, but the process itself makes it difficult to move quickly to tear down a problem property.  

“I don’t know if there’s anything we can specifically do, other than just bring attention to it and allow the lawmakers and the people that have the ability to create an ordinance to help us out,” Reith said. “If we can create something that will allow them to say, ‘But in the interest of public safety we are going around all this and expediting it,’ that would be awesome. 

“And then we can move on from there and maybe see how we can reevaluate other structures that we’re looking at that are typically unsafe.”

The city’s website lists the owner of the building as Best Inn Midwest LLC, with a PO box in Issaquah, Washington. Reith said a local representative for the owner has expressed willingness to help remove flammable materials from inside the building in an effort to make it more difficult to start fires inside the structure.

“So at the very least, we want to get it boarded up,” Reith said. “And secondarily, get all of the combustibles out of the building to make the opportunity to start a fire less.”

“Meantime, until we get that demolition order completed, I’ve asked IMPD to boost up patrols in that area so we can hopefully negate this altogether,” said Councilor Bain. “But that’s not a permanent solution. A permanent solution is just eliminating the buildings there.”

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