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East Tennessee landmark hotel's future is uncertain

11:56 PM, Apr 23, 2011   |    comments
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The historic Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge is facing an uncertain future if two non-profit organizations can't find or develop a group with the sole purpose of preserving it.

"If we lose this, what we're going to lose is a historical icon that is irreplacable," said Oak Ridge historian Bill Wilcox.

Wilcox worked as a scientist at Y-12 and K-25 during World War II when the hotel was built by the U.S. government.  It was originally called the Guest House.  Famous scientists and military personnel stayed at the hotel during the war.

"It was one of the first buildings finished in the Mahnattan Project. It opened its doors in August of 1943," said Wilcox.

The hotel's name was changed to the Alexander Inn in 1950 after McKee Alexander bought it from the government.  It changed owners several other times and has been closed since 1992. 

Today, the Inn is in complete disrepair.  The exterior needs a new roof and is in desperate need of paint. The interior has been vandalized, many walls have been torn out  or have holes in them, and there is a considerable amount of termite damage throughout.  But, there are many original items, such as a fireplace in the lobby, the reception area, and some furniture, that are yearning to be fixed up.

The Oak Ridge Revitalization Effort (ORRE) took over the mortgage in late 2009.  The group had a vision of restoring the building to it's original look and making it a vital part of the community.  However, ORRE President, Dee Deathrage, said the group doesn't have the resources or the money to pay the note.

"That's approximately $353,700. It's a no-interest loan. We worked with the former owner to extend it until June 30, 2011," said Deathrage.

ORRE spent the better part of the last two years taking care of city code violations and trying to fundraise money to pay the mortgage so they could start the preservation process.  The city has since condemned the building and fundraising has been minimal.

"What little money we were able to gather was a chore," said Deathrage.

ORRE raised about $25,000 but most of that ended up paying back expenses used for fund raising events.

Now, the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association (ORHPA), a group concerned with protecting the city's history, is working with ORRE to find or develop a new non-profit organization that will focus entirely on restoring the Alexander Inn.

"If it takes someone outside Oak Ridge working with some of the citizens here than that's accpeted," said Deathrage.

Wilcox, now in his 80's, knows more about the Inn than just about anybody.  He saw it being built, and he doesn't want to see it continue to rot.

 If ORRE doesn't come up with a plan by the end of June, the Alexander Inn will go back to its former owner.  The Anderson County trustee could sell it at auction.

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