The ongoing saga of the Prince Charles started a new chapter last month, as the county began proceedings to enforce a lien on the hotel property. The lien, the result of a $77,000 debt to the city related to unpaid ﬁnes by the property’s owner, John Chen, will be satisﬁed via public auction unless Chen pays the ﬁ nes.
Chen, a New York developer, bought the hotel in 2007 for $1.9 million at a public auction to satisfy a loan foreclosure. At that time, Chen announced plans to create an apartment/business center at the hotel. Instead, he started doing internal demolition on the hotel to create low-cost apartments in the downtown sector.
Chen failed to ﬁle the necessary permits for the work he was doing in the hotel, and the property failed city and ﬁre inspections, resulting in the ousting of the residents and the shuttering of its doors. The ﬁ nes began racking up when Chen replaced one of the hotel’s wooden windows with a vinyl window. Because the hotel is on the National Historic Register, as well as being designated a Local Historical Landmark, all work done on the exterior of the buiding must be in keeping with its historical construction.
Although Chen later replaced the vinyl window with a wooden one, he had accumulated $77,000 in ﬁ nes, and refused to pay them. A judge ordered Chen to pay the ﬁnes, and instead, he left the city and returned to New York.
On Jan. 26, the city ﬁled papers requesting the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department enforce the judgement through a public auction. The auction could be averted if Chen pays the ﬁ ne; however, that does not seem likely, according to the sheriff’s attorney, Ronnie Mitchell.
The question looming now is what will become of the grand old structure, which is starting to show signs of decay. The city, concerned for the safety of pedestrians, closed off the sidewalk in front of the hotel after external concrete fell off the building. It has been estimated that more than $500,000 is needed to bring the facility up to code.
Fayetteville’s historical property manager Bruce Daws, believes that returning the hotel to a useable facility is feasible.
“It is a very robust, Colonial revival structure,” said Daws, during a recent interview. “At the time of its construction, it was very elegant. Investors purchased the hotel in the early ‘90s and gutted a lot of it and reworked it.”
Daws said the building has suffered from a lot of deferred maintenance — painting windows, caulking and replacing wood, but that the building itself is structurally sound.
“It is not too far gone,” he said.
Daws said the hotel is important from a local and historical standpoint.
“The Prince Charles was built through community support,” said Daws. “The city sold bonds to construct it. It speaks to our automotive, transportation history. Fayetteville was the halfway point for North and South bound trafﬁ c on U.S. 301 (pre I-95); and the hotel captured patrons from the Old Atlantic Coastline Railroad. It was in the city’s best interest at that time to promote itself as a halfway point and cater to the tourist trade so a new, modern hotel was constructed.”
Daws has heard of people advocating that the structure be torn down but feels that is not the answer. “It is our responsibility to explore options to save the hotel, restore it and maintain it,” he said. “It is the only large remaining hotel in the landscape of the historic downtown — erasing it from the landscape would not be in the best interest of the district at all.”
Daws said if the facility cannot make it as a hotel, there are other options that could prove feasible.
“Downtown apartments are very popular. It could be converted into ofﬁce space,” said Daws. “It would make a wonderful museum space. There is pretty much a free hand from a historic standpoint with the interior — the Historic Resources Commission only looks at the exterior. A building of that size has a number of different options, but the popularity of living downtown is pretty great. Downtown apartments stay full. We frequently receive calls asking if there are any vacancies in the downtown area.
“But tearing it down is not the answer. It is a grand hotel. It has a beautiful outward appearance that adds to the charm of downtown. Once you tear it down, it’s gone forever. It is something that needs to stay in the downtown landscape,” concluded Daws.