tidewater inn closes

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 26, 2007

FRANKLIN — A Franklin-area landmark is closed today, and a number of residents were unsure of their prospects after being displaced by the shuttering of the Tidewater Inn.

Tony Savage, who leased the hotel from owner NewTech Small Business Finance out of New York, said Monday that 35 residents had already moved in advance of the 11 a.m. Tuesday deadline, but occupants of four rooms had been unable to find alternative living arrangements.

Savage offered transient, inexpensive housing in the old hotel for temporary workers at International Paper, as well as for those who found themselves homeless after fires or financial difficulties.

Late last year, he began offering rooms to parolees who sought help from his own company, Tidewater Outreach Services, which was set up in Franklin to administer a contract with the Department of Corrections to provide “bridge services” to those who leave jail with no home or job to which they could return.

Offering rates as low as $14 a day to “people in the community that had nowhere to go,” Savage had come to look at the operation as a community service.

“My compassion doesn’t allow me not to help,” he said.

But the arrangement ran afoul of Isle of Wight’s zoning regulations, which allowed a hotel on the site, but not a “halfway house” for paroled inmates.

Warned by the county that he would have to change his operation, Savage said, he chose to try to buy the property from the New York company that leased it to him.

He had hoped to make the purchase, then operate the facility as a low-rate hotel — outside the contract with the Department of Corrections, but with rates low enough to attract and service many of the same clients.

The deal fell through last week, however, and Savage found himself unable to keep the property open.

He said he has been told by the county planning department that the owner of the property will be required to get a new business license in order to re-open the hotel. That license likely would be stalled by the need for extensive repairs and renovations that have been put off for several years, he said.

During a tour of the property, Savage pointed out large areas of water damage that were unrepaired following Hurricane Floyd, which caused extensive damage to the buildings. He also noted unsafe electrical connections and plumbing problems.

Noting that he had a $700,000 line of credit with which he had planned to make the repairs and renovations, he said he was pushed away by Isle of Wight County.

“I was told they would not change the zoning,” he explained. “They said they did not want (the transient housing) in the county. They pushed away a business with a $20 million, five-year contract as if it were $20.”

The Emporia/Greensville area is his next target, Savage said, noting that he’d been looking at a hotel for sale there as a potential site for his correctional support business.

With 21 years in the Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections, Savage has a special level of compassion for those who have been on the wrong side of the law and are returning to society.

Many of them, he said, “are in need of opportunity, someone to put their arms around them and embrace them.”

His program offered that support through housing and employment assistance, drug addiction and abuse programs and transportation to and from jobs, he said.

Savage was clearly appreciated for his commitment to residents of the hotel, whether they were members of his correctional rehabilitation program or just people who needed an inexpensive place to hang their hats.

“Mr. Tony — he’s been good to me and my husband,” said Janice St. Peter, who expected to be one of the last to leave the facility on Tuesday. “This guy was nice enough to open up his hotel to homeless people. He don’t know none of us from Adam, but he gave us a home.”

She and her husband — who recently returned to the area hoping to get their children out of foster care — were hoping for a miracle Monday night, wondering where they would go when the hotel formally and finally closed its doors.

“Here I am fighting for my kids, and I don’t have a home,” she said.