Owner Geoff Thompson proposes $3.7 million plan to restore historic property.

Wooden beams rise from the charred remains of the View Point Inn and form it's new skeletal structure, the first sign of construction since the building was ablaze in July 2011.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - New wooden rafters are the first visible sign of reconstruction at the View Point Inn in Corbett. Using money he received Nov. 26, 2012, in a settlement with insurance companies, inn owner Geoff Thompson says he plans to pour $3.7 million into repairing and rebuilding the historic structure.

Most of the fire damage occurred on the upper roof of the inn's main gable with structural damage in and above the second floor.

Thompson has applied for a building permit with Multnomah County and is waiting approval to rebuild the inn as a single-family dwelling, according to documents obtained from the county.

“I am restoring the building to one of it's original uses, which was a residence,” said Thompson, who has owned the inn since 2004 and previously had a usage permit for a bed and breakfast.

He also plans to add an in-ground pool and convert the property's shed into a pool and spa house.

Designed, built and operated as a hotel in 1924, the View Point Inn was lived in as a residence for 12 years of its life span. With a backyard view overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, the inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Of the $3.7 million, Thompson said $1 million will go to landscaping and another $1 million into interior furnishing. Original costs for rebuilding the inn were estimated at $1.6 million.

Aho Custom Building and Remodel of Corbett is the contractor for the reconstruction.

Because the View Point Inn lies in a National Scenic Area and Thompson proposes to make changes to the property, he also requires a land-use permit. His application is still under review by the county and local partners such as the Gorge Commission, several local Tribes, the State Historic Preservation Office as well as Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

“When the construction is complete, this will be a property people all over the world will come to see for its landscaping, architecture and interiors,” Thompson said. He plans retain the historic character of the property and replace “every original fixture."

Thompson says he will live in the old inn until the restoration is complete. Then, he will pursue a continual use permit to reopen it as a hotel, gift shop and visitor center.

“It's going to be a world class, five-diamond property,” he said. “Just construction alone is going to create hundreds of jobs.”

In January, the county gave Thompson permission to re-construct the inn's rafters and put a tarp over the top as temporary roofing to dry out the building's interior and protect it from further damage.

The rafters were complete on March 15, but a tarp never went up. Thompson said he was going to put up a “rubber membrane,” but that would have cost him almost $20,000.

“I am not going to waste that much for a rubber membrane to be up there,” he said. “Summer is here, I should have the building permit.”

He said he's already spent close to $100,000 on permit fees and other costs such as engineers, architects, drawings and renderings of the property.

Until Thompson gets the permit, which is still under review at the county office, the property sits dormant.

“I am going to let the property sit there and rot until I get one,” Thompson said.

After a light rain, the smell of damp and burned wood hangs in the air at 40301 E. Larch Mountain Road.

Barbed wire lines a fence circling the property, installed this winter to keep trespassers out. Windows are boarded up. Chewed-out holes in the roof reveal walls stripped by flames. Overgrown weeds creep up around the 87-year-old inn and restaurant that once hosted Franklin D. Roosevelt and Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s. A purple mattress sits abandoned in the parking lot.

The reality is still a far reach from the luxurious vision Thompson proposes.

“Most people think I'm a fool for doing what I am doing,” Thompson said. “Why spend six or seven million on the View Point when I could go anywhere in the world to live a world-class life?”

“That's my commitment to this property,” he said. Thompson hopes to have the project complete sometime in spring 2014.

“This is my legacy I'm leaving behind. This is my Taj Mahal, this is my Tarah,” he said. “Most people would just go postal and leave.”

And many people would have likely bid he and inn co-owner and partner Angelo Simione, a long farewell.

According to a past Outlook article, court documents revealed that Thompson owed upward of $2.9 million to hundreds of creditors, including government agencies, local businesses and people who held or who were planning to hold events at the inn.  

Thompson says he no longer owes those creditors anything.

“All that was discharged in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy,” he said.

A week after the fire, Thompson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allowed him to continue running the inn with protection from creditors. But courts converted the filing to Chapter 7.

Thompson said he wanted to pay the creditors, but “Matthew Wand forced me into Chapter 7, so I am no longer responsible for any of that debt.”

Wand, a Gresham attorney and former state representative, laughed at the allegation.

A Chapter 11 requires the debtor to make a payment plan and pay back some of the debt, pennies on the dollar, of what is owed, Wand explained.

Wand said when Thompson filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, he was close to $3 million in debt to creditors, former employees, brides and contractors, including his uncle, Dick Wand. And because Thompson had no insurance and no money to pay back anything to creditors, his bankruptcy was converted to Chapter 7, which means a trustee takes over, liquidates the debtors' assets and pays as much as possible to creditors. 

After the View Point Inn owners failed to repay Wand's uncle for construction work he completed for the couple, despite a court suit and several repayment plans, Wand said they were forced to move forward with collection. Dick Wand was eventually repaid by a junior lean holder.

“It is very sad that these two business owners have a historic building and that they can't deal honestly with the community," Wand said. "Corbett is a community that will embrace business owners, their neighbors and unfortunately, these fellows have squandered that."

Wand said he hopes Thompson will repay his remaining debts, but "I suppose I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

Any outstanding debts he had with former employees, Thompson said have been satisfied through the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries.

According to BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr, the View Point Inn has no pending claims. The 56 employee claims filed against the inn between 2009 and 2011 have been closed. Some workers were paid back through the state's Wage Security Fund, a publicly administered fund to help pay workers when a business closes and owners can no longer pay.

As for the others Thompson owes,

“The only people I plan to pay back are taxes and brides and any lingering employees,” he said.

“All of the brides who lost their deposits will be reimbursed with insurance proceeds before we reopen.”

Thompson said he is excited that new rafters for the View Point Inn are in place and he is ready to move forward with rebuilding.

“I am taking what was once there and making it better," Thompson said. “World-class people came to my property when it was open and world-class people will come again.”

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