The Leitchfield Tourism Commission wants more information before making any commitments toward an effort to renovate the former Alice Theater and Alexander Hotel for use as a possible arts center.
Leitchfield city council member Steven Elder has been leading an effort to form a coalition to help save the historic buildings on the northeast corner of Public Square.
The aim is to keep the them from being sold to developers wanting to convert the building into apartments. Built in 1935 by the Nichols family, the 28-room hotel was named for their son, Alexander, and the 328-seat theater for their daughter Alice. The hotel’s second-floor dining room was a popular spot for business meetings, coffee breaks and family meals.
During its Tuesday, Nov. 27, meeting, Elder approached the tourism commission about the possibilty of it buying the buildings — which reportedly have a $400,000 price tag — and then turning them over to a non-profit group.
The non-profit group could raise money for renovations, and operate the buildings as an arts center or other public space, Elder said.
He said restoring the buildings would promote tourism, help the city’s economic development, and help keep local money in Leitchfield by reducing residents’ needs to go elsewhere for arts events.
His presentation was similar to one made the week before to the Leitchfield City Council, but drew more questions along financing lines.
Several members of the tourism commission expressed concerns about the purchase price for the buildings, and the impact spending that money would have on their continuing efforts to build an indoor swimming complex for the city — which they said is their “first priority” for a large-dollar project.
“We are looking at spending $2, $3, $4, $5 million on a pool, and I think that’s important as well, but this is a fraction of that cost,” Elder said, arguing that the theater project would touch more lives in the community.
Commission member Randy Pawley questioned that, arguing that a pool would have a greater impact on the community, offering people both health and recreational benefits.
Jeanna Carnes questioned the buildings’ purchase price, saying it was substantially higher than the sales prices of other buildings on the square. She noted she’d toured them with the idea of buying them for her personal use, and that she was concerned they would need mold abatement, asbestos abatement, and other repairs.
“I honestly have no idea how much it would cost,” Elder said when asked what the price tag for renovations might be.
Carnes also questioned how the tourism commission would recoup the tax money it would spend on the project.
“Basically, you’re asking us to buy the building, give it to somebody else (to operate) and hope they’ll pay us back,” she said to Elder.
Commission members asked that he get estimates on costs for some of the needed work and information on possible funding sources, and return for an update.
That was similar to the response by the city council, which agreed to explore meeting with other cities and state officials about ownership, operating and funding options, and to look at cost estimates for some of the needed work.