Breakthrough for Downtown: Fitzpatrick to be restored
reprinted from the Washington News-Reporter article dated March 7, 2002 by Smythe Newsome
"This may be the most important historical event in Washington since the Yankees came to arrest General Robert Toombs," said a jubilant Mayor Frank Thomas when the sale of the historic Fitzpatrick Hotel was finalized Friday, March1, 2002, in the office of Attorney Charles LeGette.
"This is a tremendous step forward in the resurgence of Downtown Washington," said Joey Fievet, president of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), a branch of the city government.
The signing party moved down the east side of The Square to Georgia Realty Sales for a reception for the new owners and a celebration of the sale, seen as an essential element in the revitalization of Downtown Washington.
The new owners are three enthusiastic developers with extensive experience in renovating, restoring, and revitalizing significant historic structures, mostly in and around Athens.
Two of the developers are Michael Todd and his wife, Christy Todd, of Winterville. Christy is employed with the Georgia Board of Regents at the University of Georgia and Michael is leaving a 15-year career with Westinghouse Corporation in Athens to devote full time to their real estate enterprises.
The third active owner is Jim Carter, who lives in a historic house he restored in nearby Philomath in Oglethorpe County. Jim says he is old enough to be the Todds' father and he has an impressive resume of historic restoration projects. He is director of special education for Oglethorpe County schools.
Carter earned a bachelor's degree at UGA and a master's at Appalachian State. He also holds three 6-year specialist certifications and has completed course work for a doctorate in educational leadership.
Actually, there is a fourth partner, Christy's father, Amit Mehta, of Waynesboro, Virginia, is a silent partner. All four own equal 25 percent shares in the Fitzpatrick Hotel.
"The DDA and all those who have loved this building and worked for its preservation welcome Christy, Mike, and Jim and wish them well," Fievet said. "We offer our new neighbors anything we can do to help and to welcome them to Downtown Washington."
Other members of the DDA, all of whom have worked diligently to find the right buyer for the Fitzpatrick, are Pam Eaton, Shirley Gunter, Henry Harris, Debbie Jackson, Charles LeGette, and Angie Richards. All the members are in business in Downtown Washington.
In a touch or irony, the closing date negotiated by real estate agent Deborah Rainey is exactly on the 102nd anniversary of the opening of the magnificent Fitzpatrick Hotel. Historian Willis Lindsey said he has determined that the hotel opened March 1, 1900. A date on the building shows 1898, but a labor strike and possibly some technical snarls delayed the opening for some two years.
The plans the partners have for the hotel restoration are exciting and it is impossible to talk with them for very long without being caught up in their vision for the restored Fitzpatrick.
"Our aim is to begin work sometime in April," Carter said in a telephone interview Monday night. "once we start we intend to stay on that job exclusively until it is done. We take pride in that we have never failed to complete a job."
The basic plan is to retain everything original and to restore the entire structure as nearly as possible to its original appearance. It will be operated basically as a hotel, with 17 rooms to rent, including a two and a half room luxury suite and five other luxury rooms. All rooms will have a private bath and six will have fireplaces. One break with authenticity will be the installation of an elevator for the guests.
The spacious ballroom will be retained and used for weddings, receptions, and other social and business functions. "All the elements are there," Carter said. "It's a joy to visualize how it will look when it is done. And there is a large, convenient kitchen off to the side that will be a joy to work in. I don't see anything that can't be restored and I'm just anxious to get started."
In the ambitious plan to return the hotel to its 1900 splendor, the new owners are calling for help from local citizens. "We need photographs of details, especially trim work like draperies, floor coverings, what the original lobby looked like, and really anything that shows any aspect of the original hotel."
Also, the developers have some pieces of original furniture to be restored and would like to obtain more. Furniture that was actually in the hotel is preferred, but authentic period pieces from any source are also wanted. Anyone who would like to donate or sell desirable pieces is asked to call Jim Carter at 706/274-3733.
One of the houses restored by Carter is house he occupies in Philomath. He first noticed the house when he was a student at the University of Georgia in 1965. He knew he wanted it but could not manage it at the time. He kept an eye on it and finally negotiated a lease with an option to buy in 1992. He restored it in 1996 and 1997 and has been living there since.
Before he got started, a tornado came through and lifted the roof, knocked the chimneys through the roof, and lifted the house up and set it back down. That setback failed to deter him and now the house is a thing of beauty and charm.
"I told you that to show that I am experienced with damaged buildings and as well as old buildings," he said.
He has also restored two major houses in Athens that were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Carter first became acquainted with the Fitzpatrick through his friendship with Steve and Eleanor Blackmon of Washington. They sang in the Athens Chorale together and he has visited here often over the years.
"There are many good things about the hotel, especially the unique trim work, but there is a major problem in the back," Carter continued. "The roof has collapsed in the back and there is grave water damage in some of the rooms, but certainly nothing that cannot be overcome."
Mike Todd owns a 100-acre farm which formerly belonged to his grandfather in Oglethorope County. He and Christy have been married about five years and they have one son, age 3 years and 3 months.
Mike is a graduate of Georgia Tech with a degree in chemical engineering. He resigned from his job with Westinghouse in Athens in order to spend his time on the Fitzpatrick Hotel and other projects in the Athens area.
Christy is a graduate of UGA where she studied advertising and business. She is bookkeeper and business manager for their many enterprises.
Christy's parents are naturalized immigrants from India, and she and Mike hope to adopt a second child from India.
Together the Todds have restored 14 houses around Athens and have won Athens Renovations Awards on two of them. Their most recent restoration is of an 1830s house once thought to be altogether lost. It is now about 85 percent completed and they want to finish it before moving on to the Fitzpatrick.
"Once we start, we won't leave it until it's finished," Mike said firmly. "I think it will take about two years to complete the job."
"We have completed everything we have started, " he reiterated. "We really want to do a good job. This hotel has wonderful possibilities and we wan to keep it as beautifully original in appearance as possible."
"I think this is a perfect fit for them and for us," Fievet added. "The hotel is the key to what we hope to accomplish and these people have the experience, the energy, the interest, and resolve to do to do the job right. I just couldn't be more pleased."