The owners of the vertical, brick two-story building that started out as Statesboro’s first hospital and later became the Norris Hotel have completed a one-year, roughly $1.5 million preservation and renovation project, transforming it into 12 upscale apartments called simply 9 Hill Street.
A Jan. 19, 2021, city of Statesboro building permit, with Cabretta Capital of Savannah identified as the developer, projected the cost of the work at $1,440,863, a figure that does not include the earlier purchase of the building. A certificate of occupancy was recently issued, and Rendezvous Property Management, also based in Savannah, is now marketing the apartments for lease.
“We’ve had lots of interest so far,” said Kolin Podell, Rendezvous’ property manager for 9 Hill Street. “We already have one of the largest units leased out and we’re working on the other 11 units that we’ve got.”
Another Savannah company, Carroll Construction, known for historic preservation and restoration projects, was general contractor. Cabretta Capital’s investor group obtained federal tax credits for historic preservation to help fund the project, Podell said. He said he didn’t know the details, and the company’s president was working on another project and not reached for interview Wednesday.
But Podell was willing to show off the results in a quick tour. The building at the corner of Hill Street and Siebald Street is tall for only a two-story structure, but it has very high ceilings. They look to be at least 10 feet to 12 feet up, and the current owners in their renovations preserved those ceilings at full height rather than covering or lowering them.
The hardwood floors are another feature of the historic building that has been preserved. Here and there a board or two have been replaced, but most are the originals, now refinished and gleaming.
Behind a small table encircled by contemporary chairs in the ground-floor lobby, the central, wooden staircase rises, light pouring down from the opening to the second floor. Upstairs, there’s another wide, central hallway – Podell said some furniture will be added to make it a lobby – with planked wooden floors underfoot and antiqued ceiling overhead.
The five two-bedroom and seven one-bedroom apartments are arranged on either side of the lobbies. They have the same wood floors and high ceilings, but all-new kitchens with solid-surface countertops and stainless steel appliances. Every unit also has its own laundry, at least some taking the form of a built-in, vertical washer and dryer. Some apartments have one bathroom; some have two. But all of the bathrooms have white tile floors and glass-enclosed showers.
Apartment sizes vary. The one-bedroom units average about 700 square feet; the two-bedroom units in the 850- to 1,000-square foot range, Podell said.
“It’s new, it’s updated, but you still have the historic charm, tall ceilings, big, bright windows, brand-new kitchens. … It’s really unlike anything else in Statesboro, especially in the downtown area,” he said.
The one-bedroom apartments go for $1,000 a month; the two-bedroom units for $1,300. Those rents include an assigned parking spot, he said. All of the apartments are also connected for fiberoptic internet, but there’s an added monthly charge for internet access. Tenants will be responsible for their own water and power bills.
So, what was previously the Norris Hotel is no longer low-rent lodging by Statesboro standards.
“So far the interest that we’ve had is from people that are moving to Statesboro that didn’t think they would, because they want a little bit more of a downtown feel and Statesboro is, you know, up and coming,” Podell said. “We’ve got some great restaurants and little cafes and bars here now, and now they feel they can walk out the door and get something really great to eat, have a nice little night on the town and then walk back to their apartment.”
One thing that was not added with the renovation was full accessibility for people with physical limitations. The building has no elevator.
A small plaque affixed to the front of the building in 2016 by the Bulloch County Historical Society identifies it as the former Statesboro Sanitorium. The marker text states: “In 1908, the 40-bed Statesboro Sanitorium became the community’s first hospital. After the opening of a publicly owned hospital in 1936, the privately-owned hospital was closed and the building converted to a hotel.”
Actually, the original name was the Sample Sanitarium, as Statesboro Herald contributor Roger Allen reported in a May 22-24, 2015, story based on researching Statesboro’s early newspapers. A drive by local physicians to open a hospital had been announced in May 1906. Dr. Robert L. Sample then oversaw the sanitarium’s construction, and he and Dr. Frank Floyd, along with head nurse Miss Whitten, opened it to treat patients in the spring of 1908.
“Dr. Sample has spent lavishly of his money to construct and equip the institution in a thoroughly up-to-date manner, and has a building which, as at present equipped, has cost approximately $20,000,” the Bulloch Times reported May 13, 1908.
Now, $20,000 would pay the rent on a single apartment in the building for less than two years.
The Norris Hotel
In the building’s later incarnation as the Norris Hotel, it was owned by Jack Marshall Norris, 1920-1986, who also owned and operated Norris Bonding Company, according to his obituary. In more recent years, the building served as a cheap long-term occupancy hotel or apartments.
Once out of business as a place of accommodation, it was used a few times as a seasonal “haunted house” attraction during Scare of the Square community events. The October 2017 version turned the once real hospital into a make-believe insane asylum.
“When we purchased it and they did the initial walk-through it still had lots of crazy, I would say Halloween-themed, paintings on the walls and spray paint and all kinds of graffiti from when it was a haunted house,” Podell said.
In addition to some rotting floor boards, falling rafters and crumbling paint and wallpaper, as their work began the new investors also found some of the original soaking tubs from when the building was a sanitarium, he said.
Not surprisingly, the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority is pleased to see such a transformation, as DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew confirmed.
“This project fits right in with our support of more residential living downtown,” Muldrew said. “This is kind of a higher-end project because rental rates are on the high end, but it’s a beautiful project.”
The DSDA had no direct involvement in the 9 Hill Street transformation except to encourage the creation of a small park behind the building on the former site of a water tower. Last August, Statesboro City Council accepted the gift to the city of one-fifth acre at that location from William P. “Will” Britt, a former member of the council and former owner of 9 Hill St.
In exchange, the city is to maintain the site as “L. and W. Britt Park.”
The DSDA is in charge of developing the park. Muldrew said it is part of the organization’s push to create more “pocket parks,” with an existing example being the Art Alley created last year behind the main gallery of the Averitt Center for the Arts.