In the spot where a garden and green space used to reside, The Smith House is bringing new life and the chance for something else to reside — if for just one weekend — as it expands its inn in Dahlonega.
“Dahlonega is in dire need of more hotel space,” said Freddy Welch, owner of the restaurant and inn that’s been around since 1899. “It’s becoming a destination and our hotel’s occupancy rate has really increased in the last two years to the point where we see a real need.”
The Smith House held a groundbreaking ceremony on Jan. 8, but the expansion has been in the works since 2002. That’s when Welch began talking to banks and getting permits for the $10 million expansion he had planned. In 2004, he said they started drawing up plans with an architect.
“We tried to maximize what we could do with this spot and we ended up with a 65-room hotel, with a nice foyer lobby,” Welch said.
After finishing up some other projects he wanted done before the expansion, though, the Great Recession hit and the plans for an expansion were “scrapped.” With the recession came fewer people traveling and staying at the inn.
“Everything has been sitting here since then,” Welch said.
Now that the economy has picked back up, the plans for expansion are back on. Last December was the most successful December the inn has ever had.
“Our occupancy rate just kept climbing and climbing and climbing,” Welch said. “And it’s still on the increase, so we needed to add new rooms. The last two years or so, the economy has kind of picked up.”
But this time, plans changed a little. Instead of a $10 million project, Welch has scaled back and is looking at a 23-room, $2.5 million expansion to the inn. He said they hope to have things completed by mid-September.
“The building that we were going to build, it was a beautiful building, but it was very large and I think it would have been overpowering looking back at it,” Welch said. “I think our design now is going to blend in.”
And that’s his hope. He doesn’t want to change the look of Dahlonega. He said the town has history and with the inn’s proximity to the square, he doesn’t want things to look too different. He doesn’t even want people to know it’s a new building.
The expansion will be fit with rooms for guests on three stories, including a basement with a large meeting room and laundry facilities. There will still be green space, though smaller than before, filled with grass and plants for guests to enjoy.
Welch has modeled the expansion after the Besser House, which used to sit on the square in Dahlonega, in hopes of helping the new construction blend in further. It, too, had a two-story porch.
“It’s a project, but it’s a manageable one,” Welch said. “For a while you think bigger is better, but as I've gotten older I’ve realized The Smith House is kind of a boutique. So we decided to build a building that would compliment what we already have, what we already are and look like it’s always been here.”
Welch sees growth happening in Dahlonega, and he welcomes it. Even if it means new hotels coming to town. He said he just hopes it’s the right kind of growth that comes, keeping the integrity and history of the downtown area intact. He said he wants to be the leading force behind that type of growth, and it all starts with the expansion to The Smith House.
“We think it will be very vital to our community and I think there's more to come,” Welch said. “Dahlonega, for a while, we were kind of stagnated, and now I think we’re starting to get some more growth. It’s got to just be controlled growth and keeping it looking like it’s always looked like … You don’t want to have big shiny glass buildings. It needs to look like what Dahlonega is and what Dahlonega always has been.”