Not swayed by the arguments or the passion of local preservationists, the Winder City Council on Aug. 19 voted unanimously to reject $500,000 in federal funding for the restoration of the century-old Granite Hotel.
Mayor Chip Thompson and several council members said the city does not have the resources for the required local match for the project.
The federal strings attached to the deal would have required the city to pay 58 percent of every invoice as the hotel is renovated. The government also set a 12-month deadline for the completion of the project.
Mike Rice, the chairman of the Winder Downtown Development Authority that owns the hotel property, said he was concerned that the preliminary cost estimate for the project could be wrong.
If the cost were to exceed the initial $1.2 million estimate, the city government would have to cover more than the planned $729,000 local match.
Rice also questioned what would happen if the completed space did not generate enough in leases to cover the $3,000 monthly debt service the DDA would owe on the loan. Those proceeds were to have been held by the city in a “revolving loan” that could be lent to other businesses in the coming years under some strict federal guidelines.
About 35 supporters of the hotel, most of them from the Barrow Preservation Society Inc., attended the meeting. Some addressed the council before the vote, arguing that the investment in the hotel could spark a revival of the downtown area.
Others expressed their disappointment to the mayor and council after the meeting adjourned.
The only good news out of the meeting for the hotel’s supporters was that no one on the council expressed a desire to spend money to raze it. In fact, some council members said the city might be willing to repair or replace the hotel’s damaged roof and then give the building away to a bona fide investor or group that could provide a solid restoration plan and demonstrate the resources to back it.
Helen Person, one of the leaders of the preservation society, said her organization would be happy to continue talks with city officials. She also invited interested members of the community to come to the lawn of the old courthouse at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26, to talk about the future of not only the hotel but also downtown Winder.
“It will take the combined efforts of community groups like Barrow Preservation Society, along with individual members of the community to work with local government to address the future of downtown Winder and how The Granite Hotel figures into those plans,” Person said.
I imagine council members agonized over this vote. Some bloggers are describing these same council members as being “without vision” because of their vote. Put 10 random people in a room together and chances are good there will be 6-7 different ideas on what “vision” should be followed. Balancing the “needs” against the financial ability to provide them is a tough situation. Many good people worked very hard on behalf of the hotel and their work is appreciated, but in my opinion the council made the right decision on this one.