By CONNIE LEINBACH
The Ocracoke Observer
The Ocracoke Preservation Society (OPS) took a giant leap Thursday night and agreed to buy the Island Inn property to save it for community purposes.
“We will put our name on the deed,” said OPS President Ken DeBarth.
The vision for the renovating the iconic building includes retaining the original two-story, wood-frame structure (the former Odd Fellow’s Lodge), demolishing the two deteriorating wings and creating separate public restrooms, all while retaining some green space.
“This was a time-limited opportunity,” DeBarth said. “If we didn’t take this plunge, the property would have been lost.”
And the OPS board ultimately agreed that this project was in their mission.
“We see this as an opportunity to expand the OPS’s preservation efforts in a big way—to be more than just a museum and a gift shop,” DeBarth said.
“I am in awe of the organization that OPS just became with this decision,” said Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s county commissioner. “It was tough for them to get to that point, but with this, they are really, truly pursuing their mission of island preservation.”
This decision culminates months of work that began late last year when John Giagu, owner of Island Golf Carts, broached to Pahl that the property needs to be in community hands.
After conferring with then OPS President Philip Howard, Giagu and Pahl formed an ad hoc committee–The Island Inn Preservation Committee–that is coordinating the complex deal, and included convincing the OPS that they were the best entity to be the steward. In addition to Pahl and Giagu, members of the ad hoc committee include Bill Rich, Hyde County manager, and Ed Norvell, a Salisbury attorney specializing in non-profit arts and preservation organizations and North Carolina land trusts and an island property owner.
But Giagu pressed the ad hoc committee to first secure the deal, Pahl said.
“That was the brilliance of John’s idea—we have to skip the income question for now and get the Island Inn off the market and into the hands of a good steward,” Pahl said. “And the OPS is that steward.”
Under then-President Philip Howard, the OPS provisionally gave its OK, allowing this committee on Dec. 7 to secure a $790,000 purchase agreement with five-year owner-financing from the current owner, Lighthouse Road Investors LLC.
Since then, the ad hoc committee spent hours researching and negotiating the complex puzzle of agreements with adjoining property owners and financing the purchase, mortgage, demolition and remodeling.
Closing is scheduled for May 7, but before the OPS signs its name to the deed and begins to revamp the derelict property, several agreements must still be secured, Pahl said. Those include final agreements with the Island Inn Condo Owners Association and Hyde County.
While the ad hoc committee will see the transfer through, the OPS has created a board committee to handle the project going forward composed of the president, treasurer, an executive board member, the administrator, as well as Pahl, Rich and Norvell. Bill Cole will serve as the OPS board member.
If all the agreements come together, on closing day, DeBarth said the down payment would come from the simultaneous sale of land across the road to the condo association and to Hyde County. The condo association would purchase the land that constitutes the pool, the septic field around the western end of the pool and the land that is the backside parking area.
Hyde County wants to purchase the open lot beside the pool and construct a new building to house the island’s EMS operations, but this sale must first be approved by the county commissioners, Pahl said. The current EMS headquarters is in a house on Back Road, the lease on which expires in December, DeBarth said.
After May 7, OPS would also begin payments on the five-year mortgage. The committee determined that it will ask the Occupancy Tax Board and the Tourism Development Authority each for $19, 642 for a total of $39,284 per year to cover the mortgage payments.
Neither of these funding bodies can commit to grants beyond each year, but Pahl said both boards have provisionally agreed to help with funding.
During the five-year mortgage period, the OPS will seek grants and do fundraising to pay for balloon payment of the mortgage balance as well as for the demolition and renovation.
Renovation and fundraising are part of the long-term plan that is still being formulated.
Anyone interested in donating to this project may send checks to the OPS, P.O. Box 1240, Ocracoke, NC 27960, with “Island Inn” in the memo line.