Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hotel on the Falls, formerly The Westbank, hangs in limbo

A vintage early '60s postcard from the Westbank Motel, Coffee Shop and Lounge.
If the phrase "Eat By the Tumbling Waters" means anything to you, you may be inclined to call the Hotel on the Falls by its original name, The Westbank.

In the '60s and '70s, that's what billboards around the Snake River Valley advertised, but since late August anyone wishing to dine or have a drink by the falls has had go somewhere else. With tourist season at an end, the fate of the River Parkway property hangs in limbo. The eight-story hexagonal tower is in foreclosure, while the restaurant, convention center and surrounding motel complex are locked up and on the market.

Dane Watkins, who owns the convention center and motel, has indicated he plans to improve the property as he looks for someone to buy it and get it back in operation. The restaurant, lounge and convention center were shut down Aug. 23, putting roughly 35 people out of work and leaving groups like the Idaho Falls Downtown Rotary, which met there every Wednesday, in the lurch.

Newer hotels such as the Hilton Garden Inn and the Marriott Residence Inn offer more up-to-date accommodations, and the Home2 by Hilton, due to open next year at Snake River Landing, is likely to raise the bar a notch higher.

The tower, which opened in 1978.
The tangle dates back to 2006, but things came to a head in June when the property's owner, Idaho Hotel Holdings, filed a default judgment against the management company, Om Shiv Ganesh LLC, for more than $3.4 million.

Doing business as Red Lion Hotel on the Falls, Om Shiv Ganesh's managing partner, Bhupendra Patel, took out a $4.37 million mortgage in 2006. In summer 2008, terms were amended to reduce the unpaid balance to $2.505 million, with monthly payments of $19,427.98 and a balloon payment of $1.69 million at maturity. Then, in April 2011, the company got a loan extension allowing it to make interest-only payments from May through October.

But with the economy sputtering, the troubles didn't end. The default judgment claims Om Shiv Ganesh stopped making payments after December 2012 and failed to pay property taxes from 2009 to 2013.

Brady Kraupp, who now runs the hotel for Westerra Realty & Management, the Salt Lake City company managing the receivership, said he's optimistic about the tower's future. "It's in pretty good shape, really," he said. "It's a concrete building. We're hoping to have a new owner after the first of the year, perhaps have some chain come in and buy it. I could be partial, but we still have the best view and the biggest rooms."

The Westbank dates back to 1928, the year Ferris Clark, son of Mayor Barzilla W. Clark and the grandson of Joseph A. Clark, Idaho Falls' first mayor, built two log buildings by the Snake River to accommodate an ever-growing number of motorists on their way to Yellowstone National Park. Over 52 years, Clark expanded the Westbank, first with a red brick motel, then a restaurant and lounge, then a two-story red brick motel. The tower opened in 1978, and Clark reportedly had plans for a second one where the convention center and motel are, but declining health sent him into retirement in 1980. He died in 1987 at age 79.

Since the '80s, the hotel has gone by different names, including Red Lion and finally the Hotel on the Falls. Until 2012, the property was owned by Jim and Sharon Bennett and Robert and Sharon Paulus, the children of Olga Gustafson Rigby. In 2012, the hotel was deeded to trusts set up by the families while Watkins bought the convention center and the land on which it sits.