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Potential Tenant Identified for the Taylor-Grady House

The Taylor-Grady House. Credit: Blake Aued/file

The Athens Clarke County Commission next month will consider whether to allow a nonprofit organized by longtime Athens businessman Lee Epting to lease the historic Taylor-Grady House on Prince Avenue. 

The nine trustees of the Taylor-Grady House National Historic Landmark, LLC, envision using the 19th century building as a house museum, a facility for meetings and training sessions for diverse large and small local nonprofits, a community center, a tourist attraction and a venue for conferences, weddings and other events. 

The county sent out two requests for proposals about the house. For the July 2022 proposal, Epting Events, in partnership with Historic Athens, were the only respondents, offering an extensive listing of how the building would operate. In November 2022, the ACC property committee voted to take no action on that proposal. A second RFP was sent out in February 2023, and two nonprofits responded: Taylor-Grady House National Historic Landmark, LLC, and the Town and Gown Players, Inc. Historic Athens is not involved in Epting’s latest proposal.

In May, the county government’s property committee voted to recommend awarding the lease to the LLC, contingent on it securing a parking agreement—which it now has in hand. The county drafted a lease; discussion continues on the fine points of the lease and requests for revisions. 

Though Epting and his business are known throughout the Southeast for catering and event-staging services, the new nonprofit will welcome other caterers into the house’s second-floor kitchen for events. The county will retain control of the bottom basement floor of the building, using it for storage, and will lease the top two floors to the tenant. At one committee meeting, there was talk of converting the Taylor-Grady House’s basement into office space, which would have come with a price tag of $250,000.

The Taylor-Grady House was built in the mid-1840s and bought in 1863 by the father of newspaper owner and journalist Henry W. Grady, namesake of the journalism school at the University of Georgia. The City of Athens bought the house in 1966, with the Junior League of Athens as its steward. 

Beginning in the late 1960s, the Junior League was associated with the house in some capacity, furnishing it, improving it and installing an elevator. League members worked with local historic preservationists and city officials, and in 1976, the National Park Service designated the Taylor-Grady House as a National Historic Landmark, the only one in Athens-Clarke County. In 2004, the local government invested about $1.7 million in SPLOST 2000 monies to renovate the house, upgrading everything from its sprinkler system to the walls and doors and installing an irrigation system.

When the county implemented a new lease structure for county-owned buildings that would have substantially raised the Junior League’s rent, the group notified the county on Aug. 31, 2021, that it did not intend to continue its lease. The league has been allowed to store furniture and furnishings in the building even though no events were happening there. The Taylor-Grady House National Historic Landmark, LLC, plans to access, repair and protect these items. It also plans to hire a house manager.

The new proposal from the nonprofit addresses the noise and parking concerns raised by Commissioner Melissa Link during the commission’s agenda setting meeting.