The Georgia Trust

PRESERVATION ISSUES

Hotel Rehabs Energize Downtowns

Hotels such as the Colquitt in Moultrie and the Fitzpatrick in Washington
are breathing new life into downtown districts.

The Colquitt Hotel in Moultrie will be adapted to apartments, offices and commercial space.

Nowhere is history more alive than in towns where stately landmarks, once abandoned or neglected, are being restored to their former glory—and as centerpieces and economic generators for bustling downtown areas.

The rehabilitation of such historic structures is taking place throughout Georgia, and in Moultrie, the Trust recently stepped in to help preserve and turn the Colquitt Hotel into an economic boon. Through its Revolving Fund program, the Trust purchased the Colquitt, which Southwest Georgia Bank had been operating as an assisted-living facility, and sold it to Hal Carter of Sylvester, who has rehabilitated buildings in his hometown as well as the Bon Air Hotel in Bainbridge, which was also purchased through the Revolving Fund.

The project is in line with the Trust’s mission to not only preserve historically and architecturally significant properties, but to promote their use in enhancing and revitalizing communities, said Frank White, the Trust’s Revolving Fund director. “The bank’s objective was to ensure a continued use of the building that would add to the vitality of downtown.”

The Colquitt came to the Trust’s attention early in 2003 through John Clark, former president of the bank and a new member of the Trust’s Board of Trustees and Revolving Fund Committee. Eight years ago, the bank financed the adaptive use of the Colquitt, which dates to the turn of the century, for a conversion into an assisted-living facility.

The business, however, failed, which necessitated the bank’s foreclosure on the property. “For the good of the community, the bank felt the right thing to do was to continue operating the facility,” Mr. White explained. It proved prohibitively expensive and was outside the purview of banking operations, but bank officials didn’t want it demolished, so Mr. Clark turned to the Revolving Fund, which finds new owners for threatened, historically significant buildings and ensures their perpetual preservation through preservation easements. The Trust signed an option to purchase the hotel in June for $200,000.

The Fitzpatrick Hotel in Washington is being restored as closely as possible to its 1898 condition.

In August, Mr. Carter bought the hotel from the Trust for $450,000. Over three-quarters of the net revenue was used to increase the capacity of the Revolving Fund to benefit other endangered properties, while the rest went to the Trust’s operating fund.

The Colquitt Hotel, re-christened the Colquitt Tower, is being adapted for office, retail and apartment use, slated to open around November 2004. Apartments are tentatively planned for the third and fourth floors, with offices on the second and first floors, and a restaurant and shops also on the first floor.

Unlike the Bon Air, the Colquitt has been modernized, so the challenges are quite different.

But its rehabilitation has given Bainbridge an economic shot in the arm, said the city’s Main Street and tourism director Amanda Glover. The building dates to 1860 and stood empty nearly 40 years until its 1999 rehabilitation. Now, its apartments are fully occupied and it has drawn new businesses downtown. “It’s been wonderful,” she said. “The residents and businesses they’ve brought downtown have been great economic development.”

Similar projects are taking place in other Georgia towns, such as the 1898 Fitzpatrick Hotel in Washington. The hotel closed in 1952 and gradually deteriorated in ensuing years, said co-owner Christy Todd. Washington’s Downtown Development Authority took it over six years ago and Todd and her partners bought the Fitzpatrick in 2002. “It had been neglected for some time, but it was still very much intact,” she said. The partners are restoring the hotel with 17 hotel rooms, a restaurant, ballroom, conference area and retail space. Opening is scheduled for June 2004.

“Washington has been working on downtown development for a long time,” said Sandy White, director of downtown development, tourism, and the chamber of commerce office. “We have a wonderful Victorian square that is quite prosperous, but with the hotel vacant and unrestored for many years, downtown was left with a big void.” With the hotel rehabilitation in progress, other businesses have been encouraged to locate on the square and conclusion of the project will help make downtown whole again, she added.

In Waycross, the 1892 Phoenix Hotel is rising again. Its success had faded with the railroad, and in 2000 it was donated to the Downtown Waycross Development Authority. Through a partnership with the state, Ware County and the City of Waycross, the development authority is renovating the hotel, adding parking and upgrading the park around the Phoenix, to be completed by next fall. The Jones Company, owner of Flash Foods convenience stores, will consolidate its offices on the second and third floors. Beef O’Brady’s, a national sports pub, will open a franchise on the ground level, and F.J. “Josh” Fenn, former director of the development authority, expects the remaining commercial space to fill quickly.

“This project is not only going to give downtown Waycross the commercial anchor it’s desperately needed for years, with the Jones Company coming into downtown, it will also retain one of Ware County’s largest employers and a homegrown business,” said Mr. Fenn. “This project will also strengthen downtown Waycross as a commercial center of Southeast Georgia.”

Other cities are exploring rehabilitation possibilities for their downtown hotels. Georgia Trust Trustee Mary Beverly is working with the Thomasville Downtown Development Authority and Diane Williams Parker, owner of the historic Mitchell House in Thomasville, to develop the means to rehabilitate the hotel.

Preserving a community’s historic fabric in ways that energize its economy are the kinds of successes that the Trust encourages and supports through programs like the Revolving Fund, which has helped preserve many homes since its 1990 inception. Mr. White called the Colquitt, its fourth commercial project, a “win-win situation for everyone—for the community, for the bank, and for the Trust” he said. “They will have continued to contribute to the long-standing viability of downtown through the adaptive use of the old hotel.”

 

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