The cluttered and deteriorated conditions inside the vacant former Howard Johnson's hotel in downtown Davenport is a bad place for a fire to start, which is why a quick response Friday by Davenport firefighters likely spared the city a devastating blaze.
Firefighters and police responded around 2 p.m. to reports of smoke coming from the lobby of the long-shuttered hotel at 227 LeClaire St. They quickly extinguished burning papers and other debris in the lobby, and police began questioning four juvenile boys in the parking lot.
A police officer instructed the boys, appearing eager to leave on their scooters, to empty their pockets. He specifically asked whether any of them had matches or a lighter. When a white lighter was found on one of the juveniles, they were placed in two squad cars.
The parents of one boy arrived at the hotel around 2:30, and police showed them the lighter and explained about the fire. Meanwhile, a firefighter took photographs of the lobby and the scooters just outside. A fire official said it appeared the boys entered the lobby by moving the plywood that covers the entrance.
"That thing has been boarded up so many times," Alderman Gene Meeker, at-large, said of the nearly 50-year-old hotel, which closed in 2009. "With winter coming, it's going to get worse."
The building was purchased for $4.65 million in 2008 by an out-of-town developer who renamed it Riverside Plaza. The property went back to the bank in 2009, and the bank also went under. A Chicago bank then acquired the hotel when it bought assets from the failed bank, Meeker said.
"I've shown that building (to potential buyers) so many times," he said. "Of late, nobody's been a serious prospect. It's been trashed so bad. We're to the point where it's just dangerous.
"I don't even go inside anymore. There's moss in the pool, probably mold all over the place, too."
The hotel is being maintained by Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial, Meeker said. The agent for the property, John Ruhl, could not be reached for comment.