SOUTH BELOIT - The Garden Hotel's sudden closure has left many with headaches and confusion, including former staff members, elected officials and event planners.
The hotel and conference center closed in late March, supposedly so repairs could be made to the building.
South Beloit Mayor Ted Rehl said city officials were made aware back in the late fall of 2018 that flooding in the basement was beginning to cause mold issues.
"The owners were trying desperately to find different ways to remediate the issue, but as always water wins," Rehl said.
He said since the hotel, at 200 Dearborn Ave., is on the floodplain, the hotel is constantly affected by groundwater.
"They wanted to act before the city took formal action to have them clean it up," Rehl said. "Anywhere in that floodplain shouldn't have a basement. The water level would be higher than the basement floor."
Since the closure was announced, city officials have been attempting without avail to contact the hotel owners, the Chinese-based company Ariva Hospitality.
"When your main contact is in China, it gives you more pause to wonder what's going on," Rehl said. "At this point we have no idea where we are with them."
Rehl said he was under the impression all future guests and event hosts had been contacted by hotel staff, although that doesn't appear to be the case.
Cassie Geishert, of Harvard, Illinois, said she had a block of rooms reserved for guests planning to attend her wedding on the weekend of April 27 since at least January. She didn't realize there was an issue until a few weeks ago when her aunt tried to reserve a room and was unable to make contact via the phone or the Garden's website. Though she was able to secure lodging for her guests elsewhere, Geishert said as of Wednesday she still hasn't received a response from the Garden Hotel.
To her knowledge neither she nor her guests paid any money to the hotel. Other groups weren't as lucky.
The same weekend as Geishert's wedding, organizers had planned to host the 28th annual Rock River Convention of Narcotics Anonymous at the hotel.
John (whose full name is not being published at his request, in accordance with this group's traditions), area facilitator of the Rock River area of Narcotics Anonymous, said the group had already paid $8,454.70, including a $1,000 deposit paid to the hotel on Sept. 21, 2018, to host the convention from April 26-28. The hotel has yet to refund Narcotics Anonymous' deposit, John said.
The more than $8,000 already spent includes plane tickets for speakers, decorations, merchandise featuring the date of the event and more. The organization, which only accepts donations from members and is completely run by volunteers, also has to refund tickets for around 1,000 attendees who had planned to come from all over the United States and the world to attend the event, John said, adding many people who get clean and sober in the area and have moved across the nation and globe will come back to attend the convention.
"It's a celebration of recovery. It's a wonderful thing. Narcotics Anonymous has changed my life," John said. "We put families back together. Lost dreams awaken is what we say. This program, it saves lives, and that's why were so saddened to have a local hotel take our money."
The organization was able to contact local hotel employees, he said, but was told they were no longer employed by the hotel and were unable to issue refunds. John said the organization was only made aware of the closure when the Beloit Daily News reported on it last month.
John said the organization is considering legal action and may try to reschedule the event at another hotel in a few months.
"It's probably going to take us a year or so to rebound from this one," John said. "We don't know what we're going to do."
Rehl asks those who have concerns about the hotel's closure to contact city staff so they're made aware of the situation and can follow up. He's unsure of what the city can do to resolve individual situations, but they can share more information.
"We're going to follow through if there's no action," Rehl said. "We can't have a building sitting like that without a plan."
Rehl praised local hotel staff for the work they did, which he said included working for a few weeks without pay. However, he said the hotel owners didn't make an effort to partner with the city. Owners inquired about a revolving loan and never followed through and also never utilized the tax increment finance district.
Rehl said the lack of revenue coming in impacts the City of South Beloit, the Greater Beloit region, Visit Beloit and the Rockford Visitors Bureau.
"The past summer they were fully booked every single weekend, so we'll feel the hit," Rehl said.
He said Visit Beloit might be a good resource for those scrambling in light of the closure.
As previously reported in the Beloit Daily News in March, the harsh winter badly damaged the building's roof, which has caused numerous leaks. The leaks have damaged the floors, which also will have to be replaced. Also, local flooding has broken all the mechanical systems in the basement.
Former general manager Nicole White said in March the hotel would reopen in June once repairs have been made. However, on Thursday she confirmed that she is no longer employed at the hotel and said she has "no idea what the owners are planning to do."
Calls to the Garden Hotel are forwarded into a voicemail box notifying callers that the hotel is closed. As of noon on Thursday the voicemail box is full.
If you or someone you know is struggling with narcotics, the Rock River Narcotics Anonymous can be reached at the 24-hour helpline 815-964-5959 or visit RockRiverNA.org.