Drug seizure could mean better parking for senior citizens
by Kurtis Workman
Press Staff Reporter
“We own a bar,” said American Falls Mayor Marc Beitia opening a discussion period about the future of the Silver Horseshoe Bar at 527 Fort Hall Avenue.
During the council’s recessed meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 2, the mayor and Police Chief Brandon Wilkinson announced the property was coming into the possession of the city.
“As of Friday the mayor signed the appropriate paperwork and all that is left is for it to be processed,” said Wilkinson.
Property owner John D. Heim pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money on Thursday, Sept. 26, in U.S. District Court. Heim admitted between March 1 and Sept. 14, 2013, he owned and operated a company, Heim Inc., that sold “spice”. Heim also admitted that he and other individuals conducted monetary transactions in excess of $10,000 using money derived from the sale of “spice”. Heim admitted the total amount he and others gained from the sale of the illegal marijuana substitute totaled over $163,000.
Heim faces up to 20 years in prison and a possible five years of supervised release after his prison term. Along with the possibility of prison and probation assets belonging to Heim were seized including the Silver Horseshoe Bar.
Initially the property was to be awarded to Bannock County. Bannock County was one of the leading agencies during the investigation into Heim’s activities. The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office was joined in the investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, Blackfoot Police Department, Idaho State Police and an amalgam of several other federal agencies.
Asset forfeitures are used as a revenue generator by the involved agencies to recoup some of the cost associated with the attached investigation. However, upon inspection of the Silver Horseshoe property Bannock County officials determined the liability and required investment to bring the property to a sellable condition was too high.
The discussion began in earnest in July about transferring ownership of the property to he City of American Falls, Wilkinson told the council.
“We then began seriously discussing the possibility of continuing with the asset forfeiture with the intent of turning the Horseshoe into a parking lot,” said Wilkinson.
According to Wilkinson the forfeiture process is complicated.
“There is a lot that has to be done to complete an asset forfeiture, but the decision was made to move forward with this one because the community could benefit,” said Wilkinson.
Beitia explained to the council his idea for the property.
“I don’t believe there is a cost effective way to bring the building back to a usable condition. Right now the senior citizen center does not have direct access parking. Those folks that use the center are currently parking across the street. For many of those people there is a question of mobility and safety, especially in the winter. I envision a parking lot with possibly a green space with picnic tables so people could enjoy lunch outside,” said Beitia.
Council member Dan Hammond said he has learned lessons while volunteering to shuttle seniors through the construction zone.
“I knew there were concerns by some of the people that go to the lunches, but I have learned through this construction project how big those concerns about mobility really are. I think having a parking lot there would address a major concern for our older citizens,” said Hammond.
American Falls Historical Commission Chair Don Johnson expressed his concerns about preservation.
‘We would like to see an architect check it out to see if renovation and preservation is possible. The Silver Horseshoe is a significant landmark for American Falls,’ said Johnson.
“I would also like to see some type of preservation done with the property. Possibly saving some of the fixtures or the sign, but I feel it is fairly obvious that the building is beyond all fiscally responsible means of renovation,” Beitia said.
Regardless of whether the building is renovated or razed, two major concerns face the city; liability and asbestos.
City attorney Steve Muhonen expressed his concerns about the liability issues.
“While I am not familiar with this specific property, if it is in the condition that has been described here I believe there are significant risks associated with owning this property. I realize it is an added expense, but the city needs to have a plan to further secure the building. With the asset comes the liability,” said Muhonen.
City building inspector Jeff Nelson said testing for asbestos could begin as early as Friday, Oct. 11.
“There will be some time getting the results back from the lab, but the company we have contracted with is ready to begin testing right away,” said Nelson.
The council ultimately tabled the final decision as to the fate of the Silver Horseshoe until the asbestos abatement estimates come in. Beitia explained the reason for the shortened timeline.
“One of the things we can do to be more cost effective is to utilize one of the two construction companies currently in town to do the demolition rather than bringing in a separate company or having one of those companies travel back after they have left. I have been in contact with both DePatco and RCSI, the company working on the wastewater treatment plant, and both are confident they will be able to help,” said Beitia.