Members of the City Council unanimously voted Thursday to offer to buy The Victoria Inn from the Jacksonville State University Foundation’s real estate holding company for up to $710,000 and close on the property by Oct. 1. The property containing the historic Queen Anne-style home and related buildings is appraised at $2.877 million, according to county tax records.
At a special meeting, City Council members convened into executive session for more than a half-hour to discuss the offer and then publicly voted with very little discussion.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he thinks the city “can’t afford not to make this offer.”
“It’s about everything we represent,” he continued “and that’s economic development, historical preservation, the health and well-being of the community.”
Councilman David Reddick added that the move shows the council’s commitment to economic development. “It shows that we’re serious about having successful businesses that people prosper and grow in our city,” he said.
The JSU Foundation put the hotel up for sale in March 2012, less than four years after local developer Earlon McWhorter and his wife Betty donated the property to the university’s non-profit arm in December 2008.
Attempts to reach Charles Lewis, vice president for Institutional Advancement at JSU and executive director of its foundation, were not successful Thursday.
Currently, JSU contracts with Jackson Hospitality Services to run the hotel’s day-to-day operations. Stewart said that if the purchase goes through, that contract will likely continue. The city, he said, will put the Victoria in the stead of the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, which can continue with Jackson Hospitality or another contractor its members see fit. The authority would also assume the leases for the restaurant housed at the Victoria and for the Wren’s Nest, an art gallery located on the property. The authority, Stewart said, could then gauge private-sector interest in the location.
Stewart noted that the Victoria is not only of economic importance, but is also a treasured piece of the city’s history.
John Martin McKleroy, president of the Anniston Land Company, bought property along the elite Quintard Avenue and built his home atop a hill in 1888.
According to the application to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places, McKleroy was already a prominent Alabamian before he moved to Anniston as a leader in the Woodstock Iron Company and the Anniston and Cincinnati Railway Company.
After his death in 1894, his son William Henry McKleroy lived in the home. William Henry McKleroy also played a prominent role in the Model City, serving as the president of both the Anniston National Bank and Oxford National Bank and as mayor of Anniston. The younger McKleroy died in 1919, and his widow sold their home a year later. William Coleman Wilson, manager and later president of the Emory Foundry Company in Anniston, bought the home at a public auction.
After his death in 1949, Frank and Robbie Kirby purchased the property. The Kirbys were another prominent Anniston couple; Frank was the founder, president and chairman of the board of the Anniston Electric Company and served in various roles in the community. Robbie Kirby was an accomplished musician and active in community women’s organizations.
Frank Kirby died in 1981, and after his wife’s death in 1983, their estate sold the home to developers.
According to news reports from the period when the property was being renovated into an inn, fires from blowtorches used to strip paint from the home stalled the project. Finally, with a new annex containing 26 guest rooms, the home opened in December 1985 as The Victoria — the first country inn licensed in Alabama. Over the years, owners have expanded, and the inn now offers 63 rooms.
Stewart said The Victoria needs a good deal of maintenance, but it’s important to preserve the building and keep it a vibrant and prominent hotel in the city. “It’s a real treasure,” he said.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.