BG finalizes renovation plan for historic Southern Queen

Published 1:45 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

By Michael J. Collins, Bowling Green Daily News

Bowling Green’s Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved an agreement with Bell Vue Properties to renovate the historic Southern Queen Hotel into five short-term rental units, a business center and a “Southern Queen gallery.”

Neighborhood & Community Services acquired the property in 2021 with plans to revitalize the building, which once was a premier hotel that catered to Black travelers during segregation and was featured in the famed “Green Book” for those travelers.

In 2021, the Southern Queen was “dilapidated” and unfit for use, a memo from NCS Director Brent Childers stated.

The memo states NCS crews “found creative methods to ensure the story of the Southern Queen could survive” through its stabilization work.

“Once clean up and stabilization were completed, the next step was to find a new owner that would restore the structures, while preserving their legacy,” according to the memo. “We organized a neighborhood focus group consisting of current and former Shake Rag residents so that we could listen and learn about the properties.”

Consultancy firm ICF was charged with distributing a Request for Proposals, which returned two applications, both with plans for short-term residences on the property.

Bell Vue acquired three parcels of land at 136 State St., where the Southern Queen sits, 140 State St. and 533 East 2nd Ave. for $1 with the understanding that it would preserve structures “in a manner that enhances the historical nature of the Shake Rag Neighborhood.”

Local real estate developer Desmond Bell, owner of Bell Vue Properties, will take on any remaining costs associated with the properties and be granted access to any historical artifacts from the property previously found by the city.

Bell said he took an interest in buying the property even before the city acquired it. Several years ago, a woman stopped Bell at a store and asked to show him the Southern Queen in its current state.

“She explained the history to me, and I was very interested in it,” Bell said. “Certain things just happen in life, and it’s almost like God is trying to tell you something.”

Attempts to close on the property came up short while the Moses family owned the Southern Queen. Once the city began looking at potential owners, they took an interest in Bell’s pitch.

Bell said he hopes to keep the property in the family for his children, preserving its history and purpose for the neighborhood as well. He added he has no plans to sell once things are fixed up.

“I want it to stay in our family for 100 years,” Bell said. “When I looked up the Moses family, I saw a picture of their family, and I just see this being more of a passing from their family to our family.”

The agreement stipulates that Bell will begin construction on 136 State St. and 533 East 2nd Ave. within two months and 140 State St. within 18 months. Bell said construction will begin once another neighborhood development by his company, Bell Vue Heights, finishes up.

“I’m sure you’ve seen how (the Southern Queen) is now,” Bell said. “Three months from now, it’s going to look different.”

Commissioners also approved the rezoning of just over an acre of land owned by Flea Land Inc. at 1110 and a portion of 1100 Three Springs Rd. from agriculture and highway business to highway business to allow for a new miniature golf course.

Flea Land owner Grant Lewis received approval in December by the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County to rezone the lot for an 18-hole mini golf course on 1.27 acres in front of Flea Land.

The course will include concessions, a clubhouse and a patio, Lewis said then, and will be open from March through November and some days in the winter if weather permits.

“The golf course construction team is due in on April 1,” Lewis said. “We hope to start construction of the clubhouse before then, weather permitting. We could open late summer if everything falls in place.”

Commissioners on Tuesday also approved:

  • Change order for $89,590.50 to contract with Bushels & Blooms LLC of Franklin for storm damage clean-up due to costs exceeding expectations, bringing total project cost to $694,590.50.
  • A grant submission for Kentucky Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery single-family housing development funds for the Kentucky Department for Local Government up to $2,591,634.
  • A proposal by Scott, Murphy & Daniel LLC of Bowling Green for kitchen renovations at Fire Station #4 in an amount not to exceed $86,555.

The board will meet again Feb. 6 at 4:30 p.m.