Community bids farewell to Monte Vista owners

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Visiting Black Mountain in 2010, Sue Conlon and Barney Fitzpatrick drove by the historic Monte Vista Hotel and were so taken by the brick structure that they bought it later that year.

Barney Fitzpatrick and Sue Conlon received a warm send-off from the community at an open house at the Monte Vista on Feb. 21. The couple sold the hotel after owning and operating it for eight years.

On Feb. 21, more than 100 people, including local leaders, business owners and patrons of the Monte Vista, gathered inside the 81-year-old brick building overlooking State Street to bid farewell to Conlon and Fitzpatrick and thank them for their contributions to the community. Conlon and Fitzpatrick are selling the hotel, a place they fell in love with nearly eight years ago.

“Barney and I had been looking all over the country for an historic hotel to renovate,” Conlon said, recalling that trip from their home in Melbourne, Florida at the time. The couple was leaving Blowing Rock, where they just finished looking at The Green Park Inn.

Fitzpatrick and Conlon decided the historic hotel in Blowing Rock was too large, and headed back for Florida. A spontaneous exit off of the interstate led them to the Monte Vista.

“On our way back to I-26 we stopped in Black Mountain,” Conlon said. “We pulled into the parking lot, looked around - I’ll never forget - Barney said ‘this would be a piece of cake.’”

Sue Conlon and Barney Fitzpatrick stand in front of the Monte Vista days after purchasing it in 2010.

The hotel had been closed since the previous September (and foreclosed upon in December 2009). Conlon and Fitzpatrick knew there was work to be done. The couple planned to fix up the hotel, not remodel it.

“We wanted to move the bar, which at that time was where the dining room is now,” she said. “Otherwise, we didn’t have much that we were going to change.”

The couple purchased the hotel in 2010 and immediately made it a priority to connect with their new community. They did just that and have now moved to Burnsville.

Black Mountain mayor Don Collins read a proclamation declaring Feb. 21 “Sue Conlon and Barney Fitzpatrick Day” in the town. In his statement, Collins said “the hotel once again became a vital part of life in Black Mountain” under their ownership.

"I've never had a day named in my honor," Conlon said to Fitzpatrick after the proclamation. 

One of the ways in which the hotel became an integral part of Black Mountain again is the annual Deck the Trees fundraiser that benefits the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry. Cheryl Wilson, the organization’s executive director, thanked Fitzpatrick and Conlon for their support, prior to the mayor’s proclamation. Last year’s Deck the Trees event raised more than $25,000 for the ministry.

Another way Conlon and Fitzpatrick connected the Monte Vista with the community was establishing a relationship with the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League, which operates out of Red House Studios & Gallery on the property. Conlon knew she wanted to promote local art at the hotel as soon she bought it, she said. 

"We knew we had to do something with the red house. We would have to fix it or have someone else fix it, since it was in very bad shape," she said. "The art league contacted us and said they'd be interested in fixing the space and using the building. We've been so thrilled to have them next to us. We leased that building to them for $1 a year, but they have done so much work to it."

The grounds of the hotel every year host the Black Mountain Beautification Committee's garden show fundraiser. Libba Farleigh, who organizes the event, thanked Fitzpatrick and Conlon during the open house last week. 

An emotional Fitzpatrick and Conlon thanked the crowd for attending the event. In a subsequent interview Conlon said the couple is emotionally invested in the hotel, which is what led to them selling it to an ownership group, headed by Mike Boles, an Atlanta native who founded and designed hospitality concepts in Georgia and Florida.

"The group that bought it is younger and more versed in marketing and how a modern business should grow," she said. "I think (new ownership) will be good for the longevity of the Monte Vista to move forward a little bit, or more than Barney and I are capable of taking it."

Boles was impressed by the history of the Monte Vista, which Lucien and Rosalie Phillips opened in 1919. The current building was constructed in 1937; the property remained in the hands of the Phillips family until 2009. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Boles said he plans to stay true to that classification. 

He plans to keep the Monte Vista name. "There is an amazing history here in this building," he said. "We want to celebrate and expand on it."

Boles said he is in the midst of a 30-day transition process that allows him to focus on "addressing the fundamentals" around the property like strengthening the wi-fi and updating the phone lines. 

"Barney and Sue have done a great job in their time here," Boles said. "I wouldn't have the opportunity to help take this hotel to the next level if it wasn't for all of the work they have done."

Plans for improvements will be made available in the coming weeks as details are finalized, Boles said. Fitzpatrick and Conlon believe Boles will guide the Monte Vista in the right direction. 

"We did what it took to stabilize the building and make sure it would survive," Conlon said. "But this is a commercial establishment and it has to appeal to all travelers. And it has to be profitable or it can't exist.

"This town needs the Monte Vista," she said. "We think Mike will help move it forward and allow it to remain a successful commercial venture because that is what will ensure its survival."