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VOL. 128 | NO. 110 | Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lee House Renovation ‘Ready to Go’

By Amos Maki

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The group that wants to convert the historic James Lee House in Victorian Village has purchased the home, and construction is expected to begin in the next few weeks.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The group that wanted to convert the historic James Lee House in Victorian Village has purchased the home and construction is expected to begin in the next few weeks.

“I can’t believe it,” said project partner Jose Velazquez. “We’re ready to go.”

The Lee House LLC partners formally became owners of the Victorian Village home Tuesday, June 4. The deal transfers a deteriorating property that was once the Memphis Art Academy from the city of Memphis to the bed-and-breakfast company.

The project is a mixture of public and private money. Private partners in the project were Velazquez, former executive director of Latino Memphis, and J.W. Gibson, owner of Gibson Cos. Inc.

The new owners plan to spend $2.3 million on the project, and the Center City Revenue Finance Corp., an arm of the Downtown Memphis Commission, approved a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes freeze for the project. Staff estimated that the PILOT benefit over the 10-year term would be $309,778.

“Isn’t that fantastic?” said Scott Blake, executive director of Victorian Village Inc. Community Development Corp. “It’s something we’ve been working toward for six years and we could not be happier.”

Last August the Memphis City Council and DMC approved a $1 transfer of the James Lee House from the city to the ownership group.

“It’s sat empty since 1959 and that’s the really amazing news,” Blake said.

The home was the original home of Memphis College of Art in 1927 until the college moved to Overton Park in 1959, leaving the building empty.

The home at Adams and Orleans Streets is designated by the Library of Congress. Built in 1841 as a two-story, four-room home, the Lee house went through several large changes in the 1870s.

Plans submitted to the Downtown Memphis Commission envisioned converting the 8,100-square-foot Lee House into a five-suite, luxury bed-and-breakfast inn. Suites will be named after each of the four families that have owned the property – the Lee Suite, the Goyer Suite, the Harsson suite and, now, the Velazquez suite, as Velazquez and his family plan to live on the third floor.

Blake and other Downtown boosters hope the transformation of the Lee House will lead to greater change in the neighborhood.

“Our big hope is this will be a big trigger for many more things,” Blake said. “It takes momentum for these other dominos to fall and we think this will be it.”

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