The Georgia Trust

A PUBLIC, PRIVATE AND NONPROFIT PARTNERSHIP SAVES HISTORIC HOTEL

The Bon Air before rehabilitation (above)
and after (below).

Almost every town has a building or house like it. Maybe there's a ghost story or two attached to it. Perhaps it's an eyesore. In Bainbridge, Ga., the Bon Air Hotel was one of those buildings. An ailing physical reminder of the past. However, when demolition threatened to destroy the historic downtown landmark, the building owner and residents of the town joined forces with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation to save the building. Not only was the building saved, but it has been rehabilitated and turned into a profitable venture. All at a cost lower than destroying and building from scratch.

This extraordinary story of town pride and teamwork began in a familiar way. Once heralded as a "delightful place to sojourn at any season of the year," over the years the Bon Air Hotel had deteriorated into an underused three-story building with a leaking roof. Since the 39,000-square-foot building occupies almost an entire block of the town square, to some it looked like a waste of valuable space - parking space, that is.

Tearing down the Bon Air for a parking lot seemed to be the simplest solution to the problem. Yet many residents and preservationists resisted the possible demolition of the former hotel, built in 1902. They saw the Bon Air's potential as an asset, not an albatross.

Not only would a parking lot detract from Bainbridge's historic downtown square, but leaders recognized that it would be economically more feasible to rehabilitate than rebuild. Local activist Mary Ann Griffin asked The Georgia Trust to facilitate finding a preservation-minded buyer who would restore the Bon Air Hotel as a functioning contributor to the town's economy and owner Reuben Reynolds generously offered to donate the building. Through its Revolving Fund program, The Georgia Trust, with the help of preservation planner Paul Forgey of the Southwest Georgia Regional Development Center, began discussions with Hal Carter, a developer from Sylvester, Ga. On July 13, 1999, Carter purchased the Bon Air.

Carter has restored several loft apartments in Sylvester, as well as a hotel similar to the one in Bainbridge. The new Bon Air has retail space on the first floor, lofts on the second floor, and soon the third floor will also consist of lofts.

A historic view of the Bon Air Hotel

"I think the hotel will be a catalyst for downtown revitalization," he says. "When you bring people back to live downtown, they stay downtown and they shop downtown." Carter praised the city of Bainbridge for its cooperation and receptiveness to his ideas. He said the city is so committed to the project, it is applying for a grant to replace the graceful balconies that once lined the front of the building.

"Without the cooperation of numerous people and organizations, including Georgia's department of community affairs, local downtown development manager Nell Worsham and City Manager Charles Tyson, this collaboration to save a very significant part of Bainbridge's business district could not have occurred," said Gregory Paxton, Georgia Trust president and CEO. "Everyone put their heads together to make things work, and everyone benefits by having the Bon Air Hotel once again become a vital part of Bainbridge."

Since 1990 the fund has provided effective alternatives to demolition or neglect of architecturally and historically significant properties by promoting their rehabilitation. The fund enables owners of endangered historic properties to connect with buyers who will rehabilitate their properties. This year alone, the fund has rescued four historically significant homes from demolition.

"As the first commercial building to be sold through the Trust's Revolving Fund, the Bon Air is an exception, since the fund is designed to 'revolve' historic homes," said White.

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation is the nation's largest statewide nonprofit preservation organization with more than 8,000 members. The Georgia Trust's mission is to promote an appreciation of Georgia's diverse historic resources and provide for their protection and use to preserve, enhance and revitalize Georgia's communities.

Do you know of an endangered historic property in your town? The Georgia Trust may be able to help.
Contact Kate Ryan at 404-885-7817.

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