Williams has changed much for the better in the last 10 years. We have rejoiced at how far we have come. The vision of every downtown building painted and occupied is shared throughout the community. Last week's downtown fire that took out a Williams landmark was a wake-up call for many.
Although many of our historic downtown buildings have either received huge renovations or are in the process of renovating, a few buildings remain unchanged. Frances Reuter -- longtime Williams absentee property owner -- owned the building lost to fire last week.
After Williams was bypassed by Interstate 40 on Oct. 13, 1984, we were all worried about the future of our community. No longer would folks traveling on I-40 be forced to drive through Williams. What would we do about the lost revenue? Because of the bypass, real estate in this area was cheap.
On Sept. 17, 1989, the inaugural Grand Canyon Railway train traveled to the Grand Canyon for the first time in more than 20 years. GCR coming to Williams boosted the revitalization of our town. During the past 10 years, a new and improved Williams has emerged with the exception of a few buildings --many owned by Reuter.
Reuter came to town in the '80s and purchased property at bargain basement prices. Property Reuter purchased included the Grand Canyon Hotel, the former elementary school, an empty hotel on Second Street, a church camp and the building that burned on Route 66. For more than 20 years, these properties have sat empty with 'for sale' and 'for rent' signs in the windows. Reuter demanded high dollar amounts for the dilapidated buildings, so potential buyers disappeared.
The buildings all remained vacant and further deteriorated through the years. When approached by more potential buyers, Reuter refused all offers and held onto the buildings. Last year, Reuter finally lost the church camp and the Grand Canyon Hotel. The church camp and the hotel have been cleaned up. Oscar and Amy Fredrickson are pulling out all the stops on the renovation of the historic and charming Grand Canyon Hotel. Thank you, Oscar and Amy!
The elementary school is out of Reuter's hands as well. Recently, the grounds were trimmed and cleaned for the first time in nearly 20 years. The school displays a huge Banker's Real Estate sign and contact information for broker Rich Gorney. Perhaps someone will purchase the old school and somehow restore it to its former glory. It has been reported that the building that burned last week was in escrow when the fire broke out.
It is a miracle that someone was not injured or even killed during the last 20 years these buildings have been vacant. The buildings were left so insecure that a young child could have easily gained entry. Who knows how many transients and citizens lived in and roamed these buildings.
It's criminal that we as citizens tolerated the misdeeds of Frances Reuter for so many years. Where does the blame rest? The misdeeds were likely tolerated for many reasons. City officials' hands were tied when it came to Frances Reuter. Laws and statutes at the time were vague. It was only last year that Reuter was found guilty on 20 of 30 counts of class-one misdemeanor charges stemming from building code violations.
Reuter was fined and threatened with jail time if she failed to pay. Apparently Reuter is fearless. She blew off her court fines. Now Reuter has a valid arrest warrant out of the Williams City Court. Her bond is set at $2,500 -- the highest bond amount allowed in a municipal court. Reuter actually owes the Williams City Court outstanding fines totaling $36,040. Reuter then failed to appear on a charge at the Williams Justice Court. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Reuter with a bond of $1,000.
Many who witnessed a piece of Williams' history burn down last week felt a terrible sense of loss. A value cannot be placed on what these two individuals -- a possible arsonist and an absentee landlord -- have done to our community. A huge part of downtown Williams has been taken from us. Hopefully justice will prevail.