Gov. Bill Haslam is supporting a nomination for a national historic preservation award for a project converting the Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge into an assisted living center.
Knox Heritage and East Tennessee Preservation Alliance have nominated the hotel for the 2014 The National Trust/Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Award for Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation.
In a Feb. 25 letter, Haslam said he supports the nomination. The letter was sent to Stephanie Meeks at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.
The Alexander Inn was built during World War II, when Oak Ridge raced to help build the world’s first atomic weapons as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. Guests who once stayed at the two-story hotel included Gen. Leslie Groves, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and physicists J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi.
But it has been vacant for more than two decades and had fallen into disrepair. It’s been the subject of a years-long preservation effort.
The company converting the hotel, Family Pride Corp. of Loudon, expects to complete its $5.5 million project this year. The new assisted living center is expected to create 40 permanent jobs and have an estimated annual economic impact of $2.7 million, Haslam said.
“Rick Dover, general manager of Family Pride Corp., is one of our state’s most active preservation developers, and we are fortunate that he and his company are investing $5 million into the Alexander Inn,” said Haslam, who is a former Knoxville mayor.
The governor said it’s his understanding that the Alexander Inn was the first regional project for East Tennessee Preservation Alliance, a relatively new organization that was the result of a 16-county expansion by Knox Heritage with support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“The hotel had long since been abandoned, but local constituents and Knox Heritage could see the potential,” Haslam said.
Once known as the Guest House, the Alexander Inn was one of the first Manhattan Project buildings, and it opened in August 1943. It’s been listed on the state’s most endangered list, and it’s also listed on the National Historic Register as part of the Oak Ridge historic district.
The renovation is benefiting from a 20 percent federal tax credit, and the rehabilitation is adhering to U.S. Department of Interior standards.
The renovation project also benefited from a 10-year effort to preserve the North End of the former K-25 Building in west Oak Ridge. Concerns about the safety of that former uranium-enriching building, its deteriorated condition, and the cost made preservation impractical, but an agreement officially announced by the U.S. Department of Energy in August 2012 cleared the way for the entire building to be demolished. The agreement also provided, among other things, a $500,000 grant to the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance to buy the Alexander Inn and stabilize it until the hotel could be transferred to a private developer.
Haslam said the Alexander Inn was the only historic building preserved as part of that mitigation.
The three-acre property has been listed on ETPA’s annual East Tennessee’s Endangered Heritage list since 2010. It now includes an easement that will insure the building is preserved forever.
Haslam said Knox Heritage and Kim Trent, its executive director, are national leaders and “have accomplished much since their establishment in 1974.
“As governor of Tennessee, I am proud to support projects that preserve out past and provide new opportunities for our future,” Haslam said. “I hope that you agree that the Guest House Alexander Inn is a model project for other communities across the country and should be recognized accordingly.”
See the governor’s letter here: Gov. Haslam Alexander Inn Letter.