Endangered Partridge

Historic hotel hopefully can survive foreclosure threat
Walton Way Hotel LLC, the owner of The Partridge Inn, defaulted on a $16 million loan in September 2009. The hotel, which has played host to several celebrities and celebrations, has remained open.

If the venerable Partridge Inn's foreclosure troubles are a surprise, they shouldn't be.

Try sitting down at the bar and asking to see the owner. Be ready for a real bender; as of the middle of this week, no one has been able to track down a human being admitting to it. All one can find is a list of Atlanta attorneys.

Perhaps not surprisingly, neighbors say they haven't felt valued by the historic inn and restaurant. It's hard to imagine such a facility thriving without the support of locals.

One local we did talk to reported having a friend try to stay at the Partridge Inn, but failing to muster an entire night there.

A former employee told us she had been trained for "half a second" before being let loose on the customers, who were regularly nonplussed by conditions there. She said key employees employed themselves with horseplay, such as looking at girls on the Internet. Processes were so inexact, shall we say, that the employee was often called at home at odd hours to locate keys and such.

"I was surprised it stayed open that long," the former employee said.

A local hotelier estimated the Partridge Inn's $16 million bank note would require a gross monthly take of $400,000 -- a tall order in a sound economy, much less this one.

And, of course, there's that economy, in which even well-run, non-leveraged businesses are struggling.

The debt alone was a suffocating black cloud, one real estate expert noted.

"It was doomed from the start," the expert said.

The "start" was the purchase of the 1836 landmark by Atlanta investors in 2005. Originally built as a private residence with a view of the valley below, it's been a hotel since 1892.

Augustans felt their stomach sink when news of the foreclosure hit last week, though the hotel remains operational for now. It may have been a few years since many of us stopped in for a meal or drink, but this city feels understandably protective of the old girl. Few facilities here emanate the Old South the way the Partridge Inn and its veranda do.

There's no reason that a historic hotel with such character, ambience, sentimentality -- and so many built-in fans in the community -- can't succeed down the road. The Partridge has weathered 100 years of up and down economies, as well as the vagaries that come with being run by human beings.

Here's hoping it manages to ride out another storm.

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