When fire destroyed the historic Earle Hotel in downtown Stockton, it was a wake up call for the city.
The fire rekindled concerns over safety and the future of downtown’s abandoned buildings, and fears that it could happen again.
“Homeless people could go in there and just do whatever they want and stuff, so you don’t know what’s going on in those buildings,” Sunny Howell, of Melo’s Burgers, told FOX40. “A fire could happen at any moment and any time or worse.”
Melo’s Burgers opened up recently across from some of the abandoned buildings. The fear of another fire is not far from the owners’ minds.
When the smoke cleared after the Earle Hotel fire June 4, a symbol of a celebrated era was reduced to a husk.
“Something needs to be done. It needs to be torn down or it needs to have better security measures so no one gets in and occupies those vacant buildings,” Stockton Police Officer Rosie Calderon said.
The Earle was once one of seven hotels in a vibrant downtown in the mid-1900’s. The St. Leo and Commercial buildings housed retail shops and apartments.
“You had that retail activity and above you had residential where you had people who worked downtown and worked in retail. So it really used to be the live-work kind of environment,” Micah Runner, Stockton’s director of economic development, told FOX40.
Now, the St. Leo, Commercial and Main buildings aren’t just eyesores; they’re abandoned and dangerous, and attract homeless squatters.
“It’s very difficult to keep people out of them and to make sure we’re maintaining them so that they’re safe and secure,” Runner said.
In 2014, police have gotten nearly 50 trespassing complaints. Officers regularly patrol the area to keep homeless out.
Investigators believe trespassing is what led to the fire at the Earle.
Still, despite the city’s best efforts, the trespassing still happens.
“It was scary. I won’t ever try to go back into that abandoned building again now that I saw that. But a lot of people do,” James David, who is homeless, told FOX40.
The buildings are currently for sale, and the city has invited potential developers with the hope that the buildings could be the catalyst of a rebirth in downtown.
“This is all part of that transition of what’s the next piece and what’s the next phase of downtown,” Runner said.
Stockton wrapped up its application process Friday. It’s unknown when the city will decide on a developer.