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Gainesville Motel to be torn down

POSTED: November 25, 2009 11:30 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Gainesville officials have approved grant funding to demolish the Gainesville Motel, which was opened in 1957.

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Over the years, the Gainesville Motel has played host to celebrities like Paul Newman and Barbara Mandrell.

But soon, the 52-year-old building boarded up on Jesse Jewell Parkway, and the history surrounding it, will be nothing more than a memory.

Gainesville officials have approved grant funding to demolish the Gainesville Motel. They have chosen contractors to do the work, and the building should be no more than brick dust in the next few months, according to Community Development Director Rusty Ligon.

Ligon said code enforcement and building inspections officials have declared the old motel and other nearby buildings unfit for human habitation, and the city will pay $54,000 to have the private properties demolished as part of a program to help eliminate blight in the city.

When 69-year-old Gainesville resident William H. Peck’s family opened the Gainesville Motel in 1957, it was one of a few motels in the city, he said.

Peck closed the business five years ago.

“It’s been sitting empty since that time,” he said.

But during its heyday, the Gainesville Motel played host to Road Atlanta’s race car drivers and entertainers who performed at the Gym of ’36 in the late 1970s, Peck said.

Peck casually lists the names of the celebrities who were guests at the motel: Barbara Mandrell, Larry Gatlin and Paul Newman.

Peck says he once reserved a room at the Gainesville Motel for Kenny Rogers when Rogers performed at the Gym of ’36 where Peck once lined up concerts, but Rogers ended up at a “big party” on Tommy Bagwell’s boat instead, he said.“We’ve had them all,” Peck said.

Peck, whose family also owned a wholesale grocery business in Gainesville, said he and his family originally opened the motel because they saw a need for temporary lodging for traveling salesmen and tourists in the city.

Peck said that at the time, the city had few motels — the Elite, located where the Hampton Inn is now, the Georgianna and the Avion, located on the corner of Jesse Jewell and E.E. Butler Parkway.

“My dad was a real sharp businessman in that he saw the needs, just like we were in the food business, and he said, ‘You know ... you always have a business that somebody has to have, just like lodging, food, whatever,’... so they knew that was the kind of business to be in,” Peck said.

The success of the motel in its early years prompted the family to add on a two-story section, expanding the motel’s capacity to 54 rooms, Peck said.

“We were the primary motel in Gainesville for up in the ’60s,” Peck said.

But today, Peck said he is looking to the future. Peck was involved in the creation of the Midtown Redevelopment plan, and above any sentiment over the loss of the ’50s era motor inn, Peck sees the motel property for its role in the redevelopment of Midtown.

He has combined the motel property with an adjacent abandoned house that once served as a chiropractic clinic and two other abandoned buildings on East Avenue to create one lot.

The combined property is highly visible on Jesse Jewell Parkway, has access to East Avenue and is near to the site of the city’s future Public Safety facility on Queen City Parkway.

“You see the need, what Gainesville needs, and so that’s one reason we’re tearing all this down is providing a real good site for future development,” Peck said.

Gainesville City Council members have also expressed their desire to see the property prepared for new development. When City Manager Kip Padgett told the council in a work session last week that city officials had chosen a contractor to tear down the buildings on the property, Gainesville Myrtle Figueras said “Hallelujah!”

Using Community Development Block Grant funds, the city will pay for the demolition of the buildings Peck owns at 515 and 523 Jesse Jewell Parkway as well as the apartment buildings at 420 East Ave.

When he sells the property or transfers its ownership, Peck will have to repay the $54,000 cost of the demolition, Ligon said.

“It’s a security deed against the property,” Ligon said.

The grant money provided to the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development division through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can be used for one of three purposes in the city, Ligon said: the benefit of low- to moderate-income persons, the elimination of slum and blight, and emergency or disaster relief.

“From our standpoint, this is to eliminate slum and blight,” Ligon said.



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