By Lindsay Castleberry
A sign for the former Days Inn Keydet General off U.S. Route 60 West has been replaced with a smaller one for a Kingston Inn and Suites—a hotel chain that also has locations in Roanoke and Wytheville, Va.
The property has been vacant since it was shut down in May 2015 following a string of health code violations—including problems with mold and the property’s fire alarms.
Kenny Wilson, a Rockbridge County building official, said those issues have since been resolved and Kingston Inn was recently granted a certificate for occupancy, indicating conditions are suitable for customers to stay in the hotel.
But seven visits to the property in the past week revealed no trace of activity.
“All we know is that there’s a sign up,” said Martha Grey, a tour counselor at the Visitor Center of Lexington. “To our knowledge, it’s not open yet, and we don’t know when it will be.”
Former owner Rakesh Agarwall of Pulaski, Va., confirmed that the building is no longer a Days Inn, but refused to answer further questions.
“It is my understanding it’s changed hands and I guess the new owner is just trying to get everything back up and running,” Wilson said.
It is unclear who now owns the property.
Chris Slaydon, assistant director of the Rockbridge County Office of Community Development, said despite uncertainty about the future of the property, he is pleased to see signs of new life for the abandoned hotel.
“There is some level of comfort with larger chains, but even smaller ones like this operating and getting [the property] from the point of not being able to open to being able to open shows some initiative and movement in the right direction,” Slaydon said.
Russell Ford, a member of the Rockbridge Board of Supervisors who oversees the Kerr’s Creek district, said 15 years ago the property started falling on hard times.
Last year, the hotel’s problems could no longer be ignored.
In April 2015, an anonymous complaint prompted health specialist Katie McIver to conduct an inspection.
Former manager Tim Turner later came forward as the anonymous individual.
When Turner and his wife, Kristy Price, arrived at the hotel, the couple found widespread mold throughout rooms and in the basement, and piles of junk, dead rodents and snakes in many of the rooms.
After McIver’s assessment, building inspectors from Rockbridge County and a fire marshal and crew arrived on the scene— discovering black mold lurking behind the wallpaper, water damage and broken ceiling tiles.
Officials also found feces floating in the pump of the sewage disposal system.
Prior to the inspections, Turner had to close down 42 of the hotel’s 57 rooms due to mold and mechanical breakdowns.
Turner told the News-Gazette last year the closing was “bittersweet,” for him and his family, who moved from Blacksburg, Va., just three months earlier to live in and manage the hotel.
“The original Keydet General has been around forever,” said Wilson. “It’s kind of been an icon for that area and from my understanding they pretty much stayed booked—especially with special events at [Washington and Lee University] and [Virginia Military Institute].”
Slaydon said the Kingston Inn has taken over just part of the property.
While the main structure—located at 325 Midland Trail—has been granted approval for occupancy, problems persist in the Shenandoah Green annex–a smaller building just northwest of the hotel.
Wilson said he believes this is due to financial constraints.
“It’s pretty hard to buy a piece of property and right off the bat sink a lot of money into it,” Wilson said.
Slaydon said previous issues with the sewage system have now been resolved.
Commissioner David C. Whitesell said the county Commissioner of the Revenue’s office has not yet issued a business license to Kingston Inn.
As of Wednesday, calls to the hotel’s main number were not answered and all doors were locked.