“Say good night, Gracie,” was the familiar quote made popular by the iconic 1950s and 1960s actor/comedian George Burns when he was signaling his young, precocious wife Gracie that she was finished, through and done with her monologue.
“Say good night, Gracie,” meant it was over. Period. Well, someone very recently asked me: “Bill, why don’t you write something about the Prince Charles Hotel?” What? Are you kidding me? January 2014 will mark Up & Coming Weekly’s 19th year serving Fayetteville. During this period we have stayed extremely up-close and personal to the goings on concerning the crown prince of Downtown Fayetteville, the Prince Charles Hotel. Why? Because we have always admired and respected the Prince Charles for its historical value and past contributions to our community. However, anyone not familiar with our publication or the last two decades of history and controversy swirling around this historic icon may think we have ignored the situation or at best had trouble making up our minds or taking a solid position editorially concerning the future of the property. I can assure you this is not the case.
The fact is, we have written dozens of stories, editorials and features about the noble Prince over the years. Yes, in hindsight, our positions may seem a bit contradictory. We love it, we hate it. We need it, we don’t need it. It’s an historical beauty, it’s weather beaten, dilapidated and ugly. It is an economic “tour de force” for the city, it’s an economic disaster and drain on our downtown development. Need I go on? You get my point.
But, in our defense, there have been many people and organizations over the years like the Old Fayetteville Association, Fayetteville Downtown Development Association, Downtown Alliance, Chamber of Commerce, Fayetteville Historic Resources Commission who also respect and admire the Prince Charles and, have loyally followed its progress and plight with sincere and earnest interest in its revival, rejuvenation, rehabilitation, development and success. The numerous attempts good people have made to resuscitate the Prince Charles and restore it to its former self is a matter of public record.
Let’s face it folks, time has told the hotel’s true story. This is not going to happen. As a documented advocate of the Prince Charles Hotel, I have extreme respect for its historical designation and its significance to downtown, but, economically, it is just no longer feasible. Realistically, with the needs being what they are in Downtown Fayetteville, that property, which is directly across from city hall and only blocks from the train station and Airborne and Special Operations Museum, is much too valuable for hosting or harboring a deteriorating and dilapidated building no matter how beautiful or significant it was in the past. The Prince has served this community; now his purpose and usefulness is gone and he must go. My only wish is that he goes out with grace and dignity and not with the swell of loud and mis-directed protest from people screaming we can’t tear down history.
Let’s not forget that our noble Prince was acquired by a New York investor named John Chen for $1.9 million at a foreclosure sale in 2007. This guy was no friend of the Prince Charles or of Fayetteville. Matter of fact, when the hotel was finally closed down by city inspectors for major building violations, Chen was well on his way to turning the Prince Charles into a grandiose flop house. If protests do arise, it will be from people who have no understanding of business economics or the true value of money.
Bottom line? The property that the Prince Charles Hotel sits on is extremely valuable to the successful economic development of our city. Sure, I know that recently David Levinson, a wealthy developer from Harnett County proposed to the City of Fayetteville a $4 million plan to save the Prince Charles. Well, I doubt if that is ever going to happen. Levinson’s plan was to partner with Chen to restore the building into residential and office condominiums. Success will be elusive. The numbers just do not work.
So, where do we go from here? Actually, I have no idea. Except, if the decision is made to tear the Prince Charles Hotel down, that property should not be used for anything else but to house a three or four star mid-range hotel (Hampton Inn, Marriott Fairfield, etc.) so there will be rooms and meeting space in downtown Fayetteville to support the arts, attractions like the ASOM and other existing ongoing businesses. I firmly believe if downtown is to succeed, if downtown is going to prosper economically, visitors and guests need a place to stay when they come downtown.
When the Prince Charles was revived in the ‘90s, it was supported by downtown businesses organizations and government. The Rotary Club met there. The arts community held huge receptions in the lobby. We had jazz festivals there and it was a convenient gathering place for the entire community. It would be a huge mistake to miss this opportunity to move the downtown economic-development effort forward by not adding good hotel to the downtown landscape. But then again, we have a terrible track record when it comes to placing buildings in the right location. This should be a no brainer. We’ll see. Stay tuned. This is about to get interesting. Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.