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Hillsborough begins effort to gain control of historic inn

Posted October 13, 2015

What was once the longest-running hotel in North Carolina might be revived if its owners can decide how to save the Hillsborough landmark.
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— Town commissioners voted Monday to file an eminent domain action to take control of a Hillsborough landmark.

The board cited public safety concerns in pursuing the action against the owners of the decrepit Colonial Inn.

"The use of eminent domain, we come to it very reluctantly," Commissioner Jenn Weaver said. "This is not something that should be done thoughtlessly. This has been a difficult decision, but ... we would not be doing our job if we’re not taking some action now."

Under eminent domain, government is allowed to take private property and compensate the owner.

The Colonial Inn, which historians say was built in 1838 – a weathered sign that hangs from the West King Street building says 1759 – survived the Civil War and entertained guests as notable as the late actor Paul Newman for generations. But it has been closed for more than a decade and has become a rundown eyesore.

Hillsborough Fire Marshal Jerry Wagner posted a condemnation notice on the inn on July 29 after repeated fire calls to the property in which firefighters found various materials burning in a fireplace in what used to be a rear dining room. Wagner noted that the roof had collapsed in that section of the inn and that the foundation was unsound and the building had numerous holes in the walls and ceilings.

Commissioners didn't indicate how much they would offer Chapel Hill businessman Francis Henry for the inn. After a 30-day notice period, Henry, who bought the inn at auction in 2002, will have 120 days to accept or contest the eminent domain action.

If Henry, whose attempt to raze the building last year was rejected by Hillsborough officials, doesn't contest the town's action, commissioners plan to transfer ownership of the Colonial Inn to a public-private partnership, which would then be responsible for carrying out the estimated $3 million in renovations needed to restore the property.

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