Rick Dover and Dover Development of Knoxville have won a national preservation award for their work to convert the historic Alexander Inn, a dilapidated, vacant two-story hotel in Oak Ridge, into the Alexander Guest House, a beautifully restored assisted living center.
Knox Heritage, which played a key role in the project, announced the award on Friday. Also playing a key role was the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance.
Dover Development won the Chairman’s Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, or ACHP, a press release said. Members of the ACHP are appointed by the president of the United States.
It’s one of the highest awards given for historic preservation, the press release said.
Dover is the only Tennessee developer to ever win the Chairman’s Award, the press release said. It is the highest national award in which Knox Heritage and the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance have ever been involved. The U.S. Department of Energy shared in the award.
Dover was first shown the property and encouraged to take it on by Knox Heritage Executive Director Kim Trent, who accepted the award on his behalf at a ceremony held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., the press release said.
“The first time Rick set foot in the Alexander Inn, he literally fell through the floor,” Trent said. “Fortunately he’s the kind of person who can see the potential, not just the current reality.”
“We’re humbled, both by the award and the entire community’s reaction to the project,” said Dover, who is also Knox Heritage’s 2016 Preservationist of the Year.
Originally known as the Guest House, the Alexander Inn was built as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II, and it accommodated dignitaries during the Manhattan Project, which created the world’s first atomic weapons. Guests included scientists J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, General Leslie Groves, and Secretary of War Henry Stimson.
Despite being on the National Register, the building sat empty and decaying for many years. The East Tennessee Preservation Alliance and Knox Heritage were determined to save it. Those efforts included reaching out to Dover Development and coordinating a financing project and a memorandum of understanding that included the U.S. Department of Energy, which shares in the historic preservation award.
“We are very pleased that our grant was able to fund efforts to stabilize this historic gem and help make its renovation a viable option for developers,” said Sue Cange, manager of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management. “Now, Oak Ridge is able to reclaim a landmark that dates back to its origin.”
Now, the beautifully restored building serves as an assisted living facility. Dover also embraced the Inn’s history and not only preserved much of the original character, but included a museum curated by the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association, the press release said.
“Oak Ridge values its history and Dover’s work at the Alexander definitely helped do that,” said Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch. “A deteriorating Alexander Inn made us all sad, while the stunning facility it has become gives us all pride.”
“The Alexander Inn project fulfills a number of the objectives we honor through the Chairman’s Award, including significant contributions to economic development and heritage tourism, and rehabilitation of historic resources,” said ACHP Chairman Milford Wayne Donaldson.
“The Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association is extremely proud of the efforts that have resulted in the present excellent reuse and preservation of the Guest House,” said ORHPA President Mike Wiest. “Rick Dover and DOE EM surely deserve this award. Without such cooperative and innovative approaches, we would have lost an iconic and historic structure that is at the very heart of Oak Ridge history.”
Dover said Knox Heritage was a key partner in the work.
“They’ve helped lead the charge to save old buildings, found innovative ways to work with financial institutions and use historic tax credits, and make East Tennessee increasingly a place where old buildings are not abandoned, but rather saved…and our history preserved and embraced,” Dover said. “We’re thrilled to be a part of it.”
Trent said it was wonderful for an East Tennessee project to receive this prestigious national award.
“There are many more building to be saved, but this project helps prove it can be done and make economic sense for everybody,” she said.
The press release said Dover has specialized in reviving and restoring buildings for decades. Projects include not just the Alexander Inn, but also Oakwood School in Knoxville, Historic Knoxville High School, and the Pryor Brown Garage, which will be converted to condominiums. The firm is also redeveloping the long-vacant Farragut Hotel on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville, which will open in about one year as the Hyatt Place at the Farragut Hotel. That project alone represents an investment of almost $20 million.
Top scientists and dignitaries had once stayed at the hotel, which has also been known as the Guest House, but it hadn’t been used since the 1990s and had fallen into disrepair.
Historic preservationists, including the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association, lobbied for years to save it. And Dover had looked at it a few times over a decade. But he couldn’t make the numbers work.
However, a $500,000 grant announced by the U.S. Department of Energy about four years ago changed the math. The grant went to the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance, which used it to buy the Alexander Inn and stabilize it until the hotel could be transferred to a private developer.
The DOE grant to the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance was part of 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 DOE in August 2012 cleared the way for the entire building to be demolished. The agreement also provided, among other things, the $500,000 grant to the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance.
Dover Development, which was formerly Family Pride Corporation, announced its proposal to convert the Alexander Inn into an assisted living center in September 2012, and bought the property in May 2013.
The company received a 90 percent, 10-year tax break, or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, used to build a new road for cars that once drove through the three-acre site, move a storm sewer under the two-story building, and help remove asbestos, among other things.
Workers saved and restored as much of the Alexander Inn as possible, including the original floors and structure. The hotel’s poplar paneling was re-milled.
Among other features, there is a soda fountain bar at the Alexander Guest House where the old lunch counter used to be, lounges and seating areas upstairs and down, and outdoor courtyards. Dover has described living in the Alexander Guest House assisted living center as like living in a country club or a great old hotel.
In September, he said the Alexander Guest House will have an 18-unit first-floor memory care wing for residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The Alexander Inn was one of the first Manhattan Project buildings, and it opened in August 1943. Officials have said the three-acre site has a preservation easement on it.
The renovation of the building included the demolition of the ballroom, which was added to the hotel in the 1950s. It couldn’t be salvaged, and it was replaced with a kitchen and new ballroom and dining area.
In March 2014, the building was removed from an annual list of endangered places in East Tennessee published by the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance.
Dover and his company received a historic preservation award from the ORHPA in September 2014.
Now, the Alexander Guest House could become part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The property is listed on the National Historic Register as part of the Oak Ridge historic district.
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