On Feb. 27, an Apalachicola icon hanged hands.
The Coombs House, purchased by Bill and Lynn Spohrer in 1990 and lovingly restored, is the grand old lady of the historic district. The grand dame sat in state welcoming visitors to town and acquired sisters over the years forming an inviting yellow oasis on US 98.
The house, built in 1905, was badly damaged by fire in 1911. It sat deteriorating for decades. It would be difficult to estimate the service this enormous restoration project has brought to the town and its economy.
The inn at 80 Sixth Street, which has 23 guest suites, all with private baths, was purchased for a combined $1.56 million by a special purpose entity, CHI Apalach LLC, said spokesman Ketan Vora.
CHI is listed in state records as being managed by the Edgewater Valley Forge Fund, a limited partnership out of King of Prussia, Penn. Vora also represents investors in a sister property, the WaterStreet Hotel, which was purchased June 20, 2013 by Apalachicola Properties LLC.
CHI paid $1.46 million for the main Coombs House and the villas, including the 60-seat Camellia Hall. The adjacent Verandas Suites sold for another $98,400. CHI took out a mortgage of $1.17 million with Centennial Bank to finance the deal.
Will the Coombs sale be the end of an era? Only time will tell.
Spohrer said she had wanted to sell the property for some time and devote her talents to other pursuits. But the real estate market and perhaps her own tenaciousness prevented a deal from being closed.
Then, last fall, tragedy struck. Her husband, Bill, retired from owning an air cargo company in Miami, took a fall while moving a misplaced trash container from the Spohrer’s property at the corner of Water Street and Avenue E. He hit his head on a concrete container. His condition was grave.
Just before Christmas, Lynn brought him home from the hospital, believing she might be about to devote years to his recovery.
At about the same time, she noticed strangers walking around the Coombs House.
Negotiations began with the help of the Susan Bassett real estate team of Bassett, Shelley Shepard and Jerry Thompson. It seemed like the answer to a number of problems she was facing.
The Spohrers received a letter of intent over the holidays. “They moved with good speed.” Bassett said, praising Lynn Spohrer’s efforts at marketing the Coombs.
“There was major interest,” she said. “She had done such a beautiful job of presentation and marketing.”
The deal was closed in eight weeks.
Lynn Spohrer looks back with nostalgia on her restoration work in Apalachicola.
“We bought our first house here, on the island, in 1982. We still own it. In 1990, we bought the two worst buildings in town. The Coombs House and the Cotton Exchange on Water Street. There wasn’t much going on here then. We thought this is a town, like Savannah and Mobile. It just needed somebody to start. We saw the potential charm. We thought this is a town they haven’t ruined yet.”
The Spohrers purchased the Coombs House for $110,000 after three years of negotiations. Then the real work began. The structure took two years to restore. There was no plumbing, electricity, air-conditioning or heat, only a small galley-style kitchen and one original bathroom. Most of the windows were boarded up and one entered via a board leaned against the wall.
An internationally known designer of luxury resorts, Lynn put her special branding on restoring the house while attempting to use whatever existing architectural assets were salvageable.
She said she initially envisioned the project more as a hobby than a hands-on business. In the end, the Spohrers acquired adjacent properties and expanded the inn to its current size, 46 double-occupancy rooms.
Today, the inn has been praised in reviews by newspapers including the Tallahassee Democrat, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Miami Herald and New York Times. Country Inns Magazine gave it an award for “Affordable Luxury”, Travel and Leisure Magazine named it “One of the 30 Outstanding Small Inns in the United States,” and readers of Florida Monthly Magazine voted it “The Best Bed and Breakfast Inn in Florida.”
Looking back, Lynn Spohrer said, “It was not a great real estate investment. It was not in our best interest. We felt like we could make a difference.”
Indeed, with a few minor exceptions, the Spohrers were in the vanguard of historic restoration in Apalachicola and Franklin County.
Asked about future plans for the Coombs House, Vora said, “We want to stay with the way she’s run it. We will continue with what has been done and learn from it. “
Vora said he is proud of the operation at the WaterStreet Hotel and gave credit for success to the staff. “The challenge is just getting a property, not just the physical building, but the operations, the way you want,” he said.
The Spohrers say they plan to keep their house in Apalachicola. “This is our home,” said Lynn Spohrer.
She plans to continue her design business, travel more and paint. Since the sale, she has become more absorbed in plein air painting, working almost every day. While she has been fascinated by plein air for years, she hopes that, now, she can pursue her passion.