DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — With recent fires blazing through the abandoned Town Terrace Inn, many people have wondered, what is the future of the motel in downtown Dothan?
Plans for the revitalization of the abandoned Town Terrace Inn Motel on North Oates Street are currently underway, but due to the past two fires that have blazed through parts of the structure, the groundbreaking for that project has been delayed.
Warren Cobb bought the former Town Terrace Inn with hopes to bring 26 new, one-bedroom apartments downtown. Dothan’s future plans for its Civic Center, Wiregrass Arts and Innovation Center, and renovations to the Opera House are why he made the investment. However, he believes the homeless population in the area is causing setbacks.
“Property owners are cleaning their properties up and displacing folks that are homeless, vagrants and they are reacting to that,” Cobb said.
Cobb claims when the water was turned back on for the project to start, that’s when the problem started. He said around 20 different homeless people, none from Dothan, moved in.
“There is obviously some individual and groups that are down there that are promoting the homeless population,” Cobb said. “I don’t know what the answer is.”
This has been the second fire suspected to be caused by arson at the Town Terrace Inn in the past month. Cobb believes the way the homeless are welcomed in the Circle City may be the cause of the problem.
“I certainly don’t want to change that,” Cobb said. “At the same time, in the last two months, this has definitely been a problem. I don’t know what the solution is, it’s a tough situation.”
The situation has brought destruction to the property beyond the fires. Cobb is now working on a solution to help the people displaced by development downtown.
According to Lieutenant Ronald Hall with the Dothan Police Department, Tuesday’s fire was also caused by arson. DPD says Joe Edward Thomas, who is homeless, had copper that had been taken from an AC unit in the room where the fire started. Witnesses say they saw him leaving the room at the time of the fire.
“In the criminal investigation world, we don’t take action on speculation, we can only take action on articulation,” Lt. Hall said. “Until we can articulate some specific class, we will not have anything to operate off of.”
Dothan native, Jeffrey Watford, was arrested and charged back in March with two counts of arson for the first fire at the motel.
DPD is also reviewing a video obtained from last weeks’ abandoned building fire on Lena Street and Main Street to see if Thomas could be responsible for that arson as well.
“We are going to look at that and see if that happens to be the same individual or not,” Lt. Hall said.
According to DPD, this wasn’t the first time Thomas was caught at the motel. He was given a trespass warning in January and was then arrested in early April on trespassing charges.
While Dothan police say it’s always important if you see something suspicious to report it. It’s also vital to keep this in mind:
“There are homeless scattered throughout the area of downtown,” Lt. Hall said. “Just because they are present, doesn’t mean we can say they are responsible for these fires.”
DPD is working with the Dothan Fire Department at this time to do everything they can to prevent another crime like this from happening.
Despite the setback, Cobb knows the result will benefit the whole community.
“I think we will get past it, we are going to end up with 26 new apartments that Dothan will be proud of,” Cobb said.
Cobb tells WDHN he is thankful DFD has responded swiftly during these emergencies. He knows that the city and police are doing everything they can to prevent these crimes.
However, he believes more needs to be done regarding the homeless population here in the circle city. We will of course stay on top of this story as it continues to develop.