AMITE — Once a bustling hotel that took in visitors from all over the United States, the Royal Hotel sits vacant and in need of repairs.
Amite residents Leah Beth Simpson and Rebecca Fortenberry have been on a three-year crusade to save the structure, which was built in the early 1900s, and its rich history.
Their volunteer preservationist group Tangipahoa Hotel Cultural Center is trying to raise the $85,000 needed to purchase the property from its owners, who want to demolish it and construct affordable housing units. Additional funds would be needed to renovate the building for the Amite Arts Council, an Amite museum and other uses, Simpson said.
“It’s important to save it,” Simpson said, adding that Gov. Huey P. Long gave a speech from the second-story balcony in the 1930s and legend has it the Kingfish spent the night in one of the 10 hotel rooms.
The Foundation for Historical Louisiana has named it as one of five properties in and around Baton Rouge on its “Treasures in Trouble” list.
The list keeps tabs on historic buildings the group considers threatened by development in an effort to bring attention to their potential loss.
The task of trying to save the landmark hasn’t been easy, Simpson said.
In 1990, Simpson, who was chairwoman of the “cleanup squad” for the city’s business district, led an effort to clean up the building and transform it into a museum.
However, since the city didn’t own the building, Simpson’s efforts stopped short of her dream of reopening the building.
About three years ago, Simpson and Fortenberry agreed to try to save the structure once again and tracked down its owners. The duo pleaded with them to purchase the structure for the $85,000 asking price.
Without the funds to buy the building, Simpson and Fortenberry turned to the city of Amite for help but were told the city just didn’t have the money to purchase the building.
In 2010, Simpson and Fortenberry created the Tangipahoa Hotel Cultural Center, a 501(c)(3) organization committed to raising the money to purchase the hotel. They went door-to-door, asking someone to fund the project and for donations.
Meanwhile, they waited on the city’s planning and zoning committee’s decision whether or not to allow the owner to tear down the property. In March, the planning and zoning committee tabled the owner’s request for six months, allowing them time to generate the money to buy the building.
On Sept. 20, the planning and zoning committee met again on the issue. This time, none of the owners stepped up to say they’d like to move forward with the demolition, Simpson said.
The Tangipahoa Hotel Cultural Center has sent a letter of their intent to purchase the property to the property owners and are waiting for a response.
To date, the Arts Council has pledged $10,000 towards purchasing the building and another $10,000 for renovations. The Tangipahoa Parish Convention and Visitor’s Bureau also pledged $10,000 towards the purchase price. Several area residents have also donated money, and preservationists have stepped forward to loan the group the money to purchase the hotel.
Simpson said she and Fortenberry need to raise the money to pay the outstanding loan.
“We’re fairly confident we’ll get the building,” Simpson said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do once we get it.”
Once they own the building, members of the Tangipahoa Hotel Cultural Center will apply for grant money to restore the hotel, Simpson said. They also plan to enter into a cooperative agreement with the city of Amite, which Simpson said has agreed to repair the sewer lines. They also plan to approach Entergy and Atmos for help with utility and gas line repair. The Walmart in Amite has also stepped forward to offer help through a company grant.
Those interested in pledging money to help save the building from demolition, can call Simpson at (985) 748-9062 or Fortenberry at (985) 748-9986.