Workers have demolished the ballroom at the historic but dilapidated Alexander Inn as part of a project to convert the vacant two-story hotel into an assisted living center.
There are about a dozen workers at the three-acre site on East Madison Road, including framers and demolition, cleanup, and abatement crews, project manager Shea Ramsey said Thursday.
The flat-roof addition that included the ballroom, kitchen, and dining room had leaked, and the wood had rotted. Project officials have previously said the ballroom and kitchen would be demolished and rebuilt.
Also known as the Guest House, the Alexander Inn has been unused for more than two decades. In recent years, it has fallen into disrepair, the victim of animals, vandals, and weather. City code enforcement efforts against the property date back to 2005.
Ramsey said workers will shore up sagging sections of the building, and the work to abate mold and asbestos could last about a month.
The ballroom demolition work started Monday, a few days after the second and final estate sale at the Alexander Inn. During those sales, residents could buy items from the 1940s to the 1980s, including bed frames and Bibles, chairs and chandeliers, and dishes and dressers.
Rick Dover, general manager of Family Pride, has said construction work could be completed in six to 12 months.
The main section of the Alexander Inn was built during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, and it once hosted such dignitaries as physicists J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, and Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Historic preservationists had lobbied to save it for more than a decade.
Project officials have previously said the $4.5 million assisted living center could have 60 units and include a wing for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. A $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and assistance from the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance helped make the project possible.
Family Pride Corp., a Loudon company, announced its proposal to convert the hotel into an assisted living center in September, and bought the property in May. It has received a 90 percent, 10-year tax break, or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, that will be used to build a new road for cars that now drive through the three-acre site, move a storm sewer under the two-story building, and help remove asbestos, among other things.
“I’m overwhelmed by the community support and interest for saving and preserving this old building,” Dover said Thursday. “Hopefully, it’s going to be returned as a real asset and be able to provide affordable housing for seniors.”