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Fields Motel finally coming down
Fields Motel finally coming down

The burned-out Village Inn won't dominate the skyline over Fort Leonard Wood's main gate much longer, now that St. Robert and Fort Leonard Wood officials made a ceremonial beginning Friday to demolition work by a private developer.
ST. ROBERT, Mo. (April 17, 2009) — One of the worst “sore eyes” in Pulaski County is finally going away.

The old Fields Motel, also known as the Village Inn, has long been a source of problems for St. Robert and a target of comments by visitors to Fort Leonard Wood who wondered why a burned-out motel was sitting next to the main gate of a major military installation. Long owned by Norman Fields, the facility has been on Fort Leonard Wood’s “off limits” list for years, which means that even though it was once the closest lodging facility to the post and located right next to its main gate, soldiers were violating orders if they set foot on the property and could be court-martialed.

Before he died, Fields sued the city of St. Robert and its officials for issuing violation notices after a fire in his building that led to the eventual closure of the facility. Fields argued when he filed the lawsuit that the building wasn’t bad in bad enough condition to warrant the city action, but the building has stood vacant for years and is now in far worse condition. Fields’ family sold the building and adjacent property to an out-of-town developer after his death.

The fire that prompted the closure notice and off-limits order was far from the last fire in the building. Filled with doors and windows close to ground level with a first-floor parking lot that was largely hidden from view from Missouri Avenue, the building became a target of vandals who could gain easy entrance and firefighters repeatedly had to extinguish blazes. Fort Leonard Wood’s garrison commander joked that the building should become the site of a joint fire training exercise for military and civilian firefighters, and while that won’t happen, a new hotel and convention center planned for the site are expected to see extensive use by civilian visitors to Fort Leonard Wood and military-related conferences that cannot be held on post due to lack of space or due to potential conflicts of interest.

Friday morning was one of the first times in years that a soldier was legitimately allowed on the premises, as Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, Fort Leonard Wood’s commander, joined Mayor George Sanders in “taking a whack” at the building for a ceremonial beginning of the demolition.

St. Robert approved a Tax Increment Financing District last year that will allow the developer to recapture tax money from the new hotel and convention center that would have been paid to St. Robert, the Waynesville schools, Pulaski County and other taxing entities, and instead use the money for a limited number of years to help redevelop the property. Economic conditions have delayed the project, Sanders said, noting that he’s become hesitant to make promises when the demolition will begin.

“I don’t have to lie anymore,” Sanders joked as he helped begin the demolition.

Tearing down the building and clearing the ground is expected to be finished within a month; construction of the hotel and convention center as well as commercial office space and related projects are planned to take place over a series of phases that will take several years.

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