The Blue Grass Resource Center and Its Role in The Highland Inn Renovation
Ownership of The Highland Inn has been transferred from The Highland Center to the nonprofit organization, the Blue Grass Resource Center. The nonprofit has been in existence for several years, but it has been revamped recently to deal directly with the renovation of the historic Highland Inn.
Allegheny Mountain Radio spoke with the Resource Center’s Board President, Robin Sullenberger, who says there are four other members. He says, “Lloyd Bird is on the Board, Nancy Witschey, Richard Johnstone who is based out of Richmond but an executive with the electric utility industry and Chanda Sponaugle from Blue Grass.”
Earlier this year, the Highland Center let the Economic Development Authority of Highland County know that it would not be able to fulfill the requirements of a $600,000 Industrial Revitalization Fund, or IRF, Grant that was to be used for The Highland Inn’s renovation.
“The Inn in particular became a bit of an encumbrance for the [Highland] Center and what they hope to do there in the future,” says Mr. Sullenberger. “Originally, the plan was that they be complimentary, and I think that still, ultimately, will be the plan because The Inn is necessary as far as lodging facilities to support the Center, but yoking them together, just from a practical standpoint and a financial standpoint wasn’t a very good deal, so, basically, separating them and moving forward with a completely separate model for The Inn seems to be the rational thing to do.”
The IRF Grant came from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, or DHCD. With the potential loss of that grant looming, the Blue Grass Resource Center stepped in. Mr. Sullenberger says, “That relationship with DHCD and the grant that you’re referring to is certainly still in play, and in fact, DHCD has gone out of their way to be cooperative in terms of trying to make sure that we’re able to stabilize that and, ultimately, continue moving that forward with the grant, $600,000, and we would hope that some of the things that we’re doing right now will put that in a position where we can accept that and move forward.”
Betty Mitchell is the Executive Director of The Highland Inn renovation project, and Mr. Sullenberger talks about future hopes. He says, “We’re on the right path, I think, as far as beginning the process of renovating. Certainly, there have been some structural issues and other things that have happened, even as recently as this past winter, which make it a bit problematic in terms of structure and changing some of the internal things, and we’re optimistic that we can move that along and get it in good shape.”
“I think that no one is probably delusional enough to think that $600,000 is really going to do everything we need to do there,” he continues with a laugh. “Uh, there have been estimates in the $3 million range in terms of having, basically, a completely refurbished facility and a turnkey operation, so we’re very realistic about that, but we have to start somewhere, and my personal take on this is that the Inn is an iconic facility. It’s been a hallmark of the town of Monterey and certainly is a centerpiece of the entire county. If it were to become unstable and were to implode so to sp – speak, it would certainly be a blight on the town and on the county, and we understand the potential there, but the path forward has got to be realistic in terms of marketing the facility and being realistic about eventually the way it’s operated.”
“The end goal, obviously, would be to make it functional in terms of a lodging facility with the rooms that are already available, eighteen rooms being up to par, as far as aesthetically and functionally, and the tavern, the dining room and all of that also an integral part of that. Certainly, it would be an objective to have it reopened as quickly as possible. There is not a specific target date with that at this point in time, but, hopefully, that’ll get under way shortly, and we have deadlines to meet with the DHCD grant by this fall, and it’s a labor o’ love to some degree for the community. I think you have to be very honest in saying that.”