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Singer Tift Merritt and Durham hotelier team up to re-open historic Raleigh lodge

The Gables Motel Lodge in Raleigh’s Mordecai neighborhood is under contract to be sold to two owners.
The Gables Motel Lodge in Raleigh’s Mordecai neighborhood is under contract to be sold to two owners. News & Observer

The historic Gables Motel Lodge on Old Wake Forest Road has potentially found new owners to re-open it to guests again.

Hotel developer Daniel Robinson and musician Tift Merritt are under contract to buy the lodge, Robinson said. The two are currently exploring how they will rejuvenate the motel, a process that requires them to get a zoning change for the property.

tift merritt
Tift Merritt COURTESY OF JASON FRANK ROTHENBE COURTESY OF JASON FRANK ROTHENBE

Robinson, the owner of the popular Durham Hotel, said the two are still doing due diligence on the property, but hope to eventually create a unique guest experience for visitors to Raleigh. He did not rule out eventually adding more partners to the ownership group.

“I’ve been in Durham off and on for 25 years now, but Raleigh is a place in which my wife and I have been spending more time recently, Robinson said. “When Tift approached me with her thoughts about the Gables, it seemed like such a perfect opportunity. The history of the place and its prominence in the community were easy to fall in love with.”

It's unclear what the two are prepared to pay for the building, but when it first went on the market last year, it was listed at $1.5 million. It's now listed at $1 million on the website Redfin.

The Gables Motel Lodge is a reminder of a long-gone era when U.S. 1 passed through the city’s Mordecai neighborhood, carrying travelers between New York and Florida. It has been vacant since March 2017.

The original home, which was expanded into the small motor lodge, was built in 1925.

Before the opening of Interstate 95, Raleigh was a popular stopping point between Florida and New York, and many hotels opened to cater to those travelers.

Until 2016, the motel’s owner, 93-year-old Charlie Griffin, was still renting out rooms. After he died in August 2016, his great-nephew, Tommy Flynn, put the motel up for sale in accordance with Griffin’s wishes.

The half-acre lot includes 19 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms and a two-car garage distributed among three buildings. The property itself blends in with the other older homes in the neighborhood, except for its large metal sign in the front of the building.

Robinson said he hopes to preserve the sign or have a matching one made.

Robinson and Merritt are currently applying for a rezoning of the property from residential to lodging, and are working with the Mordecai Citizens Advisory Council.

"As Tift and I continue to evaluate the project — we’re still in due diligence on the property — I think it would be fair to say that we hope to end in a place that has us being welcome neighbors in what is already a wonderful neighborhood, while being able to offer a guest experience that is both unique and uniquely Raleigh," Robinson said.

Robinson said that Merritt is taking the lead on the creative vision of the rehabbing of the motel.

"I think it would be fair to say that my involvement in, and experience with, The Durham influences the way I think about the Gables," he said. "However, this is by no means an extension of The Durham. Tift is a dynamic, creative force — and to try to limit what we can do collectively through any form of replication would be foolish on my part."

Tift Merritt and Eric Heywood perform "Stitch of the World" from her album of the same name at the NC Museum of Art, where they'll play a show on Aug. 19.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes
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