See a 2018 report on the City of Columbus’ order closing the Fort Rapids Indoor Waterpark Resort in the video player above.
MIDLAND, Mich. (WCMH) – As the absentee owner of the former Fort Rapids Indoor Waterpark Resort faces $1,000 daily fines and litigation in three Columbus courtrooms, there’s another threat 300 miles away: the inside of a jail cell in Michigan.
Jeff Oh Kern, 71, of Los Angeles, fended off a jury trial in Midland, Michigan, earlier this month in a criminal case related to his failure to clean up the demolition site of his bygone Holiday Inn. Like the blighted Fort Rapids resort on the East Side of Columbus, Midland city leaders want to wrest the once-standing hotel property from Kern’s control.
“It’s astounding how the Fort Rapids project is basically paralleling ours,” Midland City Attorney Jim Branson told NBC4 earlier this month.
In 2015, two years before Kern assumed ownership of Fort Rapids, he bought the Holiday Inn on an eight-acre site at one of the busiest intersections in Midland. The Holiday Inn franchise – a premier hotel in its heyday – was once considered a staple in the community.
But once Kern signed his name on the dotted line to acquire it, Branson said the hotel’s condition “completely went downhill,” forcing the City of Midland to condemn it in 2018. Three years later, it faced the wrath of a bulldozer.
Though the building no longer exists, Branson said the clean-up of the site “is nowhere near being done.” Kern is still on the hook for bringing the demolition site littered with asphalt, concrete and footings into compliance.
Kern’s yearslong failure to do just that, however, landed him four misdemeanor charges in June in Midland County court: two counts of trash/litter/debris violations, one count of failing to maintain the property, and one count of failing to comply with the site’s demolition permit. Each count is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.
“We had expected a full-blown jury trial,” Branson said.
Instead, Kern pleaded no contest to all four non-compliance counts on March 20, setting him up for an August sentencing hearing. If he fails to finish the demolition project by the end of August, Kern will be placed, for the third time, in the Midland County Jail, Branson said.
One more stipulation remains, Branson said. If Kern fails to pay the Midland County Treasurer $225,000 in back taxes on the property, the property is likely to be foreclosed and swept under the county’s control.
Kern’s risk of jail time has left Columbus stakeholders scratching their heads about what the legal development means for the deteriorating, 16-acre Fort Rapids resort that sits empty on Hamilton Road.
Since Kern bought the former resort for $2.5 million in 2017, it has been left in a state of disrepair and subjected to pending litigation across three Franklin County courts. A California developer’s plans to transform the 330-room, 60,000-square-foot resort into micro-apartments for low-income tenants, meanwhile, remains in limbo.
That’s why Columbus real estate agent Dan Sheeran, who has been working to sell the Fort Rapids resort to new ownership since 2018, wants the City of Columbus to force the ownership from Kern’s hands.
“We would think that Columbus would look at this and say, ‘It’s a pattern of behavior, and it’s probably not going to change,’ but I don’t know,” Sheeran said.
Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein has requested a court-appointed receiver to take possession of the property and prepare it for sale, spokesperson Pete Shipley told NBC4 earlier this month.