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Dewberry’s Rat Hotel: Could the Charlottesville eyesore cause serious injury?

The infamous Rat Hotel in Boston was a deteriorating, crappy dive back in the 1970s and 80s, but at least it hosted bands like the Cars, Talking Heads, the B-52s, The Ramones, and The Police. Our deteriorating, crappy Rat Hotel just hosts rats. According to sources who work close to Atlanta-based developer John Dewberry’s “Landmark” hotel structure, a large population of rats now occupy the structure, and pour out from the building to meander across the brick paving and scavenge through nearby trash bins. What’s more, sources says numerous amounts of debris have fallen from the structure over the years. As if the visual abuse the eyesore has inflicted on the DTM since 2009 wasn’t enough.

But what about the structure itself? Could Dewberry’s Rat Hotel cause serious injury to someone?

Nine years ago, UVA engineering professor Thomas Baber warned that over time the exposed concrete of the abandoned “Landmark” hotel structure could be subject to “freeze-thaw cycles” which could “damage the structure, at least on the surface.” Indeed, in 2014, the Charlottesville Planning Commission recommended declaring the Landmark blighted, but safety improvements the developer made prevented the City from moving forward with that.

Today, Jose Gomez, UVA Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, shares the same concerns as Baber.

“I completely agree with Tom,” says Professor Gomez, “…the freeze thaw cycle damage occurs over a number of years and we have had nine winters since then…that is nine winters times the potential number of cycles….we have had some mild winters of late but we have had a number of freezing nights with moisture in the form of rain or snow…so we have certainly had enough potential events that the damage in the structure due to freeze thaw is most likely more pronounced now.”

However, Gomez points out, as Baber did, that “the damage due to freeze thaw starts at the surface…so if an inspector would go in to inspect the structure my guess is that he/she would see some surface cracking and spalling [Spalling is a term used to describe areas of concrete which have cracked and delaminated from the substrate.] of the concrete on the floors, as that is where water will likely collect and then settle into tiny cracks in the concrete. A freeze will occur and water expands by something like 10 percent when it freezes…hence the crack expansion…this occurs after cycle after cycle of moisture and low temperatures.”

At this time, Gomez says he sees no “immediate danger to anyone regarding the exposed structure,” adding, “concrete is an incredibly durable material, but if the hotel were to just sit there untouched over a long period of time, fifty years at least, then I would start to be concerned with its structural integrity. It is an awful eyesore on an otherwise beautiful part of our home town, but it can sustain exposure to the elements for a lot longer.”

However, as Gomez points out, the ongoing maintenance required to secure the structure could create its own dangers.

“The plywood sheathing that has been placed is really starting to concern me,” he says, “…not sure how it all is attached but it definitely is weathering away and so I think someone needs to go in there and take a serious look at that issue….a piece of plywood falling away could result in a serious injury.”

While Professor Gomez isn’t surprised by the rat infestation, he doesn’t think the rat population will effect the structural integrity of the building. But he’s not so sure about pigeons.

“Pigeon poop is highly acidic,” he says. “And that could actually speed up the degradation process due to freeze/thaw and moisture infiltration into the concrete.”

Gomez says the pigeon poop would raise the acidity of the moisture to harmful levels that could then get down into the reinforcing steel causing corrosion.

“We have had issues in bridge structures that have openings or cavities that invite the pigeons to roost,” he says, “and their droppings can be highly corrosive. I suspect there are plenty of pigeons calling the Landmark their home.”

Indeed, for the foreseeable future, rats and pigeons are likely to be the only beings calling the Landmark home.

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David McNair View All →

DTM is maintained by Charlottesville journalist David McNair. Need to market or promote an event, service, or product? Got a news item or new listing? Want to advertise on the DTM? Contact Dave at 434-305-9264 or dsmcnair@gmail.com.

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