Investors in the former Prince Charles Hotel have big plans for breathing life back into a decaying building that has served as both a shining jewel of downtown Fayetteville--and a topless bar. That sentence may sound familiar: Ones just like it have been written many times as previous efforts to renovate the 1920s hotel failed due to lack of experience or resources.
This time, investors include Michael Cohen, founder of a California solar-energy company, and developer Michael Lemanski, who has rehabbed several historic buildings in downtown Durham. Lemanski heads UNC Chapel Hill's Development Finance Initiative, which helps local governments attract private capital for major projects.
Lemanski's Prince Charles Holdings bought the sevenstory building at auction for $200,000 more than a year ago. A planned $14 million renovation includes 13,000 square feet of retail space and 62 apartments.
"Similar to many of the communities we are working in, there is a pent-up demand for urban apartments in downtown Fayetteville," Lemanski says. He declined to say when the work might start.
The iconic building has many stories to tell. Famous visitors have included Amelia Earhart, Mickey Rooney and Babe Ruth. There are darker tales, like when a 1930s police chief was found dead under unresolved circumstances, says Fayetteville historian Bruce Daws.
"There was that period of time when it was highly in vogue. Then there was rock bottom--probably in the late '60s or early '70s," Daws says. "That's when it was occupied by nothing but drug dealers, prostitutes and other types of criminals."
Lemanski in March began private negotiations with the city for a 10-acre mixed-use project on land adjacent to the hotel that could involve private and public funds. Lemanski anticipates about $50 million in private capital will be spent on the development, which he describes as having "an urban feel that you might find in other larger cities."
"The Prince Charles is such a symbol of Fayetteville's past," said Ted Voorhees in an email four days before he resigned under pressure as city manager. "To bring it back within the context of a new mixed-use activity center will set the tone for major progress moving...