A historic springs resort in Monroe County is embroiled in a lease dispute, pitting a local investor against the state of West Virginia.
Founded in 1792, Sweet Springs was once a massive hotel and resort that could hold 300 people. Like the Greenbrier, Sweet Springs was a major destination for upper society tourists during the 19th century. It closed as a resort in the early 1900s, and though several attempts were made to keep it afloat, the property went into receivership in 1930.
Then, the property was used by the state Department of Health and Human Resources as a home for the elderly. The surrounding woods and farmland are still technically owned by the state of West Virginia.
In 2015, Sweet Springs was purchased by investor Ashby Berkley, who created a nonprofit, called the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation. Berkley has spent the past several years putting thousands of dollars and volunteer labor towards renovating the property. He had hoped to open it as a hotel by 2022.
But the lease on the 650-acre property surrounding the historic hotel is now being contested. The owner of this property, the state of West Virginia, says Berkley is not holding up his end of a lease agreement, signed in 2017.
Part of the agreement states that Berkeley would develop a viable agribusiness that would benefit the local community. The department hasn’t seen his plan.
This summer, the state Department of Agriculture issued a cancelation of the lease agreement. “I’m very confused about why the hostility is coming so hard from the Department of Agriculture,” Berkley said.
He added that he cannot continue the restoration project of Sweet Springs if he cannot use the property owned by the state.
In an emailed statement, communications manager for the State Department of Agriculture, Crescent Gallager, said his agency “is discussing a new set of terms with the current lease holders before exploring other options for the land.”
Berkley said he will comply with the state and do what officials are asking, but didn’t give any specifics for an agricultural business he envisions on the property. He said he’d like to build tennis courts and a golf course on this land, to serve the historic hotel. After he is able to reopen the Sweet Springs Hotel, Berkley said then he plans to devote time and energy towards developing agribusiness.
The state has given Berkley until the end of September to meet its requests.