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By Connie Leinbach
Although many details need to be worked out, a proposal to purchase the iconic Island Inn could have it fully in the community’s hands in 150 days.
The group, an ad hoc committee calling itself the “Island Inn Preservation Committee” on Thursday (Dec. 7) secured a $790,000 purchase agreement from Thomas Storrs, the inn’s owner, said Ocracoke Commissioner Tom Pahl on Friday during an interview on WOVV 90.1 FM.
The Ocracoke Preservation Society would become the owner and put up $150,000 from its “Save an Old House” revolving fund.
Before the 150 days are up in early May, the group will have to work out financing details and future plans, the vision for which includes retaining the original two-story, wood-frame structure and demolishing the two deteriorating wings.
The building could be a visitors’ center, a space for community meetings, provide much-needed public bathrooms and also “green” areas for picnicking and other outdoor activities, said Philip Howard, OPS outgoing president in a press release. Another possible use of the property could include the county’s EMS service in space behind the inn.
“I have property alongside (the Inn) and have been thinking a lot about it,” said John Giagu, owner of Island Golf Carts, an OCBA board member and one of the four ad hoc committee members.
After chatting in November with a few people about refurbishing the building into a multi-use place, Giagu said Pahl took the idea and ran with it.
Also on the committee are Ed Norvell, an island property owner who is a Salisbury attorney specializing in non-profit arts and preservation organizations and North Carolina land trusts and, and Hyde County Manager Bill Rich, who put up $10,000 of his own “earnest money” to secure the agreement.
In the ensuing 150 days, the group will negotiate additional agreements with adjoining property owners, the Occupancy Tax Board, the Tourism Development Authority, Hyde County and the OPS, Howard’s release said. Disposition of some of the lots across the street could also be a part of the sale, according to OPS documents.
If it goes as planned, the OPS would be the initial owner of record.
“Someone has to own it,” Giagu said. “The OPS is the perfect organization for that.”
Pahl, in the radio interview, said that the OPS does not want to be the long-term owner and down the road, would like for another entity to take it over.
“But (the OPS) wants to be involved in the preservation of the property,” Pahl said.
According to the press release, the members of the OPS executive committee in their monthly board meeting on Dec. 7 voted to “support the plan brought by the ad hoc committee … and … to work with the ad hoc committee toward accomplishing the goals presented.”
Eventually, the OPS would transfer the property, with conservation easements, to “another community entity” in the future, Howard’s release said.
The sale would not be final, nor funds committed, until those details of the project are established.
Giagu said the first priority would be retaining the original building that first housed the Odd Fellows Club.
The Island Inn has a long history on the island that Howard included in the press release.
James and Zilphia Howard sold the one-acre tract of land in 1900 to the trustees of “Ocracoke Lodge No. 194 Independent order of Odd Fellows” for use as a “lodge room or such other purpose as they may deem proper.”
The original 1901 structure housed the Odd Fellow’s Lodge on the second floor. Soon thereafter, two island schools were consolidated to create one public school which was held on the first floor.
Over the next 117 years the “Lodge,” as it came to be called, was added to and modified.
Over the years it variously served the island as a private home, inn, restaurant, coffee shop, WWII officers’ quarters and gift shop.
In the early to mid-20th century it was the center of community social life.
Islanders gathered there for Saturday night square dances accompanied by the music of fiddle, banjo, guitar and triangle.
“People come to Ocracoke because it feels different from the rest of the Outer Banks and it’s because of the historic value of the village,” Pahl said about the effort to retain this building. “We can lose it one building at a time, but eventually it will be gone if we don’t preserve these old buildings.”
The Inn has been empty and for sale for several months.
The condo units across the street are not part of the plan, nor is the pool.