|By Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser,
Ala.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 14, 2013--The Winter Building at the foot of Dexter Avenue has a unique role in American history, and now it could play a prominent role in the redevelopment of downtown Montgomery.
A group of developers plans to convert the empty historic building and two neighboring structures into a boutique hotel and restaurant that would open as early as January.
The telegram that authorized the first shot of the Civil War was sent from the second floor of the Winter Building at 2 Dexter Ave., which was built in 1841. The neighboring buildings at 14 and 18 Dexter Ave. are even older.
Hotel developer Sue Lauffer said a group including her, architect Joel Peek and former state lawmaker Locy Baker have signed a contract to buy the three buildings and build the 32-room Hotel Dexter. Once the sale is final, they plan to restore the original hardwood floors, windows and fireplaces. The plans incorporate the exposed brick and high ceilings of the building.
"We're going to restore everything like it should be," Lauffer said.
The hotel's restaurant will feature a "meat and three" lunch service and a continental dinner. There will be a bar, a cigar room, a library, an exercise room and a banquet room that can seat 70.
While Lauffer has big plans for the 25,000 square feet of space, she said the focus will be on service, including 24-hour valet service and limo service. They plan to hire 42 people at "higher than market wages."
"I believe it's one little niche in the city that we don't have here," she said. "It will have a feeling of sophistication but a sense of home."
The group is also buying the 11 Court St. structure behind the Winter Building and plans to demolish it to make way for hotel parking.
John Bowman of Balch & Bingham, a former Winter Building tenant, said the firm bought the 11 Court St. property with the intention of expanding their offices, "but that didn't happen." Now he said he's afraid to even walk through the shuttered, brick structure.
"That building, unfortunately, is not safe to go in," Bowman said. "The vinyl floors just fell in."
Historian Mary Ann Neeley welcomed the idea of bringing new life to the Winter Building. She said the Court Street building is not as old as the other three structures but that all of the buildings involved with the sale would be examined by the Architectural Review Board before the plans are approved.
While Lauffer doesn't expect any stumbling blocks ahead, she's prepared for the process to take awhile. Among other things, she said the property needs to be replatted, a process that would require approval from the Montgomery City Council.
Still, it's not her first experience with historic reconstruction -- Lauffer helped rebuild the Hope Hull Holiday Inn, a process she said was "like putting Humpty Dumpty back together" -- and she said the Winter Building had been well maintained by Balch & Bingham. "It's actually in pretty good shape for what we're doing," she said.
Bowman and city officials praised Lauffer's previous work and were hopeful that her plans for the Winter Building pan out.
"That corner is an important part of downtown revitalization, and I can't wait to see it come to life," Montgomery Deputy Mayor Jeff Downes said. "There will be hurdles, as we've found with all these old buildings, and but I think where there's a will, there's a way."
Additional Facts THE TELEGRAM THAT STARTED THE CIVIL WAR
Do not desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter. If Major Anderson will state the time at which, as indicated by him, he will evacuate, and agree that in the meantime he will not use his guns against us unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are thus authorized to avoid the effusion of blood. If this or its equivalent be refused, reduce the fort as your judgement decides to be most practicable. From Sec. of War L.P. Walker to Gen. P.G.T.
Beauregard in Charleston, S.C., April 11, 1861
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