The future of the Benham Schoolhouse Inn has been decided, with the operation of the Inn being turned over to Appalachian Hospitality Group on July 1.
The Harlan Fiscal Court approved a lease with Appalachian Hospitality Group during a meeting on Thursday.
Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley brought the matter to the court’s attention.
“Mr. Warf (Travis Warf, president of Appalachian Hospitality Group) is here with us today, he was the one you all granted me authority to enter into lease negotiations with,” Mosley said. “I think we spent about four hours that day in my office going through his proposal.”
Mosley told the court they had worked out a thorough lease agreement.
“The term would be one year,” Mosley explained.
Mosley asked if any of the magistrates had any questions concerning the lease.
“I appreciate the fact you took the time and sat down to thoroughly go over it and come up with a lease agreement that you feel comfortable with as our judge,” Kennedy said. “I just hope we settle this issue and we move forward.”
Mosley said both parties had worked hard to come up with a lease agreement.
“Anytime you’re getting into a lease agreement like this, there’s give and take on both sides,” Mosley said. “We want to see the Benham Inn continue to function as an entity in our community.”
Kennedy made a motion to accept the lease agreement, seconded by magistrate James Howard. Magistrates Clark “Sparky” Middleton and Bill Moore opposed the motion. Mosley cast the tie-breaking vote, and the motion passed.
After the meeting, Moore explained why he voted against the lease agreement.
“I was up front with Dan and David and all of them in the beginning that I wasn’t going to spend any money, and I feel that we’ll be spending some money up there,” Moore said. “I wasn’t happy with some of the language in the lease. I’m not for taking any taxpayers money and spending it up there.”
Moore said the Inn hasn’t been a moneymaker in the past.
“The county doesn’t have the money to put into it,” Moore said. “The problem is they want a lot of heaters and windows and things changed and I feel like (with) some of the language in there, that they’re going to work it in to where it would be done. I don’t think it’s fair to the people of Harlan County to foot the bill for it.”
Kennedy explained the Benham Inn is an important attraction.
“I’ve always supported keeping that Inn open, I think it’s a vital piece of our tourism industry in Harlan County,” Kennedy said. “If you want tourists to come in here, they’ve got to have a place to stay…You have to crawl before you can walk. I think it’s on the verge of taking off as well as the tourism industry in Harlan County.”
Mosley had some words on the subject after the meeting as well.
“We have saved the Benham Inn,” Mosley said. “Its a lucrative opportunity for the county in partnership with Travis Warf and Appalachian Hospitality Group to insure that the Benham Inn is operated professionally and is a resource that is available to the Harlan County Community for some time to come.”
Mosley explained the county will be receiving rent from the Benham Inn.
“In the past the court has not received any type of income from the Benham Inn,” Mosley said. “Now the court is going to receive some income. The lease agreement is one that I feel is a very structurally sound agreement that protects the fiscal court.”
Mosley mentioned he had discussed ways to keep the Inn open with Gov. Matt Bevin.
“Gov. Bevin told me not once, but twice, ‘privatize that Inn,’” Mosley said. “That’s what he suggested, and that’s what we attempted to do. Fortunately, we found an investor that wants to do it.”
Mosley said he was content with the approval of the lease agreement.
“I think the people of not only the Tri-City area but all of Harlan County will be glad to see that the Inn will continue to be open,” Mosley said. “I’ve made it very clear, I wasn’t going to do it if it was a burden to the taxpayers, and I’ve stood firm in that. With this structured agreement, it’s not going to be a burden to the taxpayers, the taxpayers are going to be getting some revenue out of it. We’re going to be maintaining the insurance on the place just like we have for the last umpteen years, so there’s not any additional commitment on our behalf.”
Mosley said there is some work to be done before Appalachian Hospitality Group takes over.
“We’re going to inspect the place, make sure that everything is at least functioning to some degree before he takes over,” Mosley said. “I’m comfortable with the process we’ve outlined, and I’m glad the majority of the fiscal court feels that way.”
Mosley explained the agreement Appalachian Hospitality is a one year lease with an option to renew under the same terms for one additional year. The lease can be renegotiated at the end of the second year.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde