Council to get update on The George project

Published 5:57 am Friday, June 8, 2007

By Staff
Unless deadline extended, grant may be returned
Contributing Editor
Washington’s City Council is expected to receive an update on The George — Little Inn at Washington project during its meeting Monday.
The update is an item on the council’s agenda.
City officials have particular concerns about The George — Little Inn at Washington. Unless that project meets specific criteria by June 30, there’s a possibility the $750,000 component of the $1 million grant will have to be returned to the state. Earlier this year, Mayor Pro Tempore Darwin Woolard said losing that money would be a blow to the city’s efforts to revitalize its downtown.
The update planned for Monday could include some good news. Several weeks ago, city officials learned the state would consider extending the deadline if it is convinced there’s a good chance the people who have assumed the project can move it forward in a manner acceptable to the state.
The George — Little Inn at Washington has had its share of delays.
In February 2005, Washington was notified it had been awarded a $1 million grant to help renovate the historic downtown Hotel Louise. That project called for the city to lend $750,000 to Progress Partners to renovate the Hotel Louise building. The project’s original plans called for a spa and restaurant to be housed in the renovated structure.
In October 2005, Fred Fletcher, managing partner of Progress Partners at the time, appeared before the Washington City Council to provide an update on The George project. At that time, Fletcher said Progress Partners was waiting on approvals from the National Park Service and the State Historic Preservation Office before it could proceed with the project. The agencies’ approvals are required before the project can receive tax credits. Fletcher said construction drawings and subsequent steps to begin construction on the project couldn’t begin until the two agencies approved project plans.
Fletcher said then the State Historic Preservation Office was “waffling” when it came to its review of the plans. He said then that indecision was a “nightmare” that had Progress Partners “trying to figure out what we can build.”
Almost a year later, Fletcher appeared before the council, informing its members that the plan for penthouse condominiums on top of the former Hotel Louise building had been abandoned, requiring Progress Partners to return to the state for approval of changes made to The George project.
Fletcher said then he hoped demolition work for the George project would begin in December 2006. It did not.
At that October 2006 meeting, Councilman Archie Jennings expressed concern with the project, noting the end of the grant period was less than 60 days away. If the project was not under way by then, the state could demand its grant be returned. Later, city officials learned the state had extended the deadline for the project to begin until June 30, 2007.
Because of administrative and organizational changes within the company, Fletcher “stepped down” from his role as manager, according to a press release issued by Progress Partners in January. Fletcher was been replaced by Stanley Friedman of Washington.
In an interview in January, Friedman said Progress Partners continues to seek new strategies for development of The George — Little Inn at Washington and Moss Landing, another Progress Partners project.