There could be a new chapter for the storied Colonial Inn after all.
At least three interested buyers have toured the property at 153 W. King St. since it went on the market in April, said Dale Helsabeck, who handles the inn’s affairs for owner Francis Henry.
“A couple of people have been back for second and third times,” she said. “There’s been some engineers and contractors, so that sounds promising.”
Helsabeck also hired a Fuqua-Varina real estate appraiser and broker to market the property. Timothy S. Allen, with the Seagle and Associates real estate services company, posted the inn to national websites in early July.
The asking price for the 179-year-old building is $875,000 – three and a half times what appraisers hired by the town estimated as its fair market value. Orange County recently lowered the property value by roughly 21 percent to $518,300.
Helsabeck disputed the town’s appraisals, in part because of state and federal tax credits available for renovating historic buildings. The people interested in the inn are aware the tax credit is “where a big part of the value comes in,” she said.
“The town of Hillsborough doesn’t want to talk about that valuable tax credit, because that’s where the big part of the value comes in,” she said.
Helsabeck also took issue with what she called the town’s “bogus appraisal” for the inn and its half-acre of downtown land.
“They did this, so they could get it for nothing, let’s just go ahead and print it in the paper,” she said. “If they could get it for $250,000, well, good God, I’d go buy it.”
Margaret Hauth, assistant town manager and planning director, consulted with the town’s attorney before declining to comment on Helsabeck’s allegations.
A statement on the town’s website says “the town has an obligation to enforce the public safety, minimum housing and demolition by neglect ordinances. In addition to protecting the public health and safety of citizens, the town took action to help save a valuable cultural asset.”
The Colonial Inn at times has been a hotel and a popular restaurant. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered a structure that contributes to Hillsborough’s downtown historic district.
Henry bought the property in 2002 for $410,000. His fight with the town started the next year after neighbors complained he was neglecting the inn’s upkeep.
The wrangling came to a head in 2016, when the town filed for eminent domain in Orange County Superior Court. The town agreed in April to drop its action and give Henry time to sell the property. If he doesn’t sell to suitable buyers by April 9, 2018, the town can file again for eminent domain.
Since the property is zoned residential, a new owner could use it as a home or, with a town permit, for a neighborhood business, such as a bed and breakfast, rooming house or child care center. The owner also could seek a rezoning from the town that allows more commercial uses.
The Hillsborough Historic District Commission has to approve any changes to the building’s exterior.
The commission denied Henry’s 2015 petition to tear down the inn, but the town ordered him to demolish part of a rear dining room soon after. He made some repairs over the years and, Helsabeck said, they installed a new tin roof and fixed holes in the ceiling and rotten wood on an upper balcony in the last two years.
The work has not been cheap, she said, declining to say how much money Henry has put into the property in recent years. Henry also has a lien on the property dating from 2009, when he signed a $1 million loan agreement with Samuel D. Isaley, a New York investor.