Memphis Commercial Appeal . Posted August 8, 2012 at
Developer has B&B
plans for the historic James Lee House in Memphis
By Sherri Drake Silence, Linda
unbars the door at the James Lee House. The president of the Memphis
Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities said the
venture could adversely affect the Woodruff-Fontaine House next
door, but Velazquez is confident: “Their success is our success and
views a trove of old molding and fixtures at the James Lee House,
where he hopes to open a bed and breakfast with five luxury suites.
He said he expects to invest $2 million in the project, which could
be complete by next summer.
Council gave initial approval to sell the James Lee House at 690
Adams in Victorian Village to a private developer for $1.
Interact with the latest unemployment numbers Search employment
trends. Search our databases. A Memphis City Council committee gave
initial approval to the transfer of the James Lee House in Victorian
Village to a private developer for $1, but the project is still
being scrutinized to ensure the city can legally part with the
Velazquez, former executive director of Latino Memphis, expects to
invest $2.1 million in the historic site on Adams Avenue west of the
medical center to open a bed-and-breakfast with five luxury suites
and rates from $170 to $320 per night.
plan was criticized during the council discussion by Jane Work,
board president of the Memphis chapter of the Association for the
Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities. Work said a B&B at the Lee
House could jeopardize the Woodruff-Fontaine House, a restored
historic home next door.
The city also
owns the Woodruff-Fontaine House, built in 1870, but the site is
operated by the local APTA, which gets no money from the city or the
state, said Work, who herself is a volunteer.
city transfer of the now empty Lee House includes a fountain and
parking lot on the shared property, both of which are crucial to the
wedding-party business that funds the Woodruff-Fontaine House, Work
She told the
council committee that if Velazquez changes his business plan or
sells the property, the Woodruff-Fontaine House could be forced to
"I think we
could become the next empty hulk on Adams Avenue if something isn't
done," said Work, who was not notified about the project and learned
about Tuesday's meeting on Facebook.
not get a chance to speak at Tuesday's council meeting, but said
afterward he's spent 14 months preparing for the Lee House project
and intends to work closely with Woodruff-Fontaine volunteers
is our success and vice versa," said Velazquez as he gave a visitor
a tour of the mansion. "I think that we have been extremely careful
to cross all the T's and dot all the I's." The 8,100-square-foot Lee
mansion at 690 Adams, was originally built as a two-story brick
farmhouse in 1848, but was refashioned into an elaborate mansion.
riverboat tycoon James Lee bought the house. His daughter, Rosa Lee
lived there for decades. She purchased the Woodruff-Fontaine House
next door and established an art academy on the property.
Rosa Lee died
in 1936, leaving the houses to the city for use as an art school.
The Memphis Academy of Art (now the Memphis College of Art) operated
there until 1959.
grass-roots efforts to restore it, the house has remained vacant.
When the Center
City Commission, now the Downtown Memphis Commission, began efforts
to market the historic property, Velazquez came forward with a plan.
But the project needs APTA's support to be successful, said Paul
Morris, president of the Downtown Commission.
"Now we've got
to go back and solve the APTA issue, and we have to have another
presentation to City Council," Morris said.
his wife Jennifer have wanted to open a bed-and-breakfast since they
stayed in B&Bs on their honeymoon 23 years ago. They plan to live on
the third floor of the Lee House when the restoration is complete.
"We are taking
our family's resources and passion and pouring it into this place,
something that hasn't happened for 60 years," said the developer,
standing in the mansion's parlor, which has 12-foot-plus ceilings
and marble Victorian fireplaces.
he's already getting calls from people who want to book rooms at the
future business, though he doesn't expect to complete the
restoration until spring or summer of 2013.
past president of the Memphis chapter of APTA and current chairman
of Victorian Village Inc., said the project is good for Victorian
Village. "This is going to be the catalyst to make things happen
historic mansion in Memphis, the Hunt-Phelan Home on Beale Street,
went up for sale last month for $2.865 million. It was last open to
the public as a bed-and-breakfast and four-star restaurant, but
those operations are now closed.