Published July 07. 2014 4:00AM
Plans submitted to city officials for conversion; business would serve tourists with an interest in history of the region
Norwich - Natalie Huey Min Lee moved to Norwich in 2012 to retire after renovating two historic city houses for rental income.
But as she drove daily up Broadway and gazed at the 19th-century mansions that line the route between City Hall and Norwich Free Academy, one in particular caught her eye.
When the "For Sale" sign went up at the elegant Italianate/Victorian 1856 Henry Bill House at 270 Broadway, Lee put retirement on hold.
Lee purchased the house in March for $480,000 using a Small Business Administration loan. She already had started working on a business plan to create Mount Crescent Bed & Breakfast at the square, 16-room, three-story, brick mansion, with its high ceilings, arched doorways, glassed-in porch and third-floor narrow spiral staircase that leads to the widow's walk cupola.
Outside, the expansive 1.3-acre property features ornate gardens, slate patios and walkways, a large side lawn, a five-bay garage, tennis courts and a gazebo.
Lee submitted plans last week to the city planning office to convert the house from single-family home to a seven-room bed and breakfast - which requires a special permit - with an eighth rear bedroom as the resident innkeeper's room. The Commission on the City Plan is slated to hold a public hearing on the application July 15 at 7 p.m. at the planning office, 23 Union St.
This week, Lee plans to meet with neighbors to explain her plan to cater to high-end Chinese and Taiwanese tourists who not only have money to spend on American vacations but are enthralled with American history.
"Where can you get American history? In New England," Lee said Thursday. "It's right here."
She already has made contact with tour companies that offer fast-paced tours that bring Chinese tourists to New York City, Washington, D.C., Niagara Falls and Boston. "I don't know why they skip Connecticut entirely," she said.
She has received interest in the tour she designed called "New England Historical Tour" that would include stops in Boston, Newport and stays at the Mount Crescent Bed & Breakfast as the base for stops in Connecticut. Lee said guests could visit the Mark Twain House in Hartford, sites in Mystic, and the USS Nautilus submarine museum in Groton.
In Norwich, guests could go on walking tours of historic areas, visit Mohegan Park, Norwich Harbor, the Spirit of Broadway Theater, downtown concerts and local museums. She included copies of Norwich walking tour brochures in the package.
Lee envisioned another marketing package for boaters making their way up the Thames River who don't want to stay on their boats for a weekend.
"Norwich has so much potential," she said.
Lee, who is originally from Taiwan, came to Norwich after a varied career that included eight years as the chief financial officer of a Bronx company that managed rental properties in five cities. She also has worked as a fashion designer for children's outerwear in New York and as a fashion consultant in Taiwan.
Obtaining the special permit is just the first step in the complicated permitting process for a bed and breakfast in Connecticut. She was dismayed when officials from the state fire marshal's office insisted that she either provide complete separation walls or doors between the floors or install sprinklers throughout the house - a move that could ruin the historic ceilings, trim moldings and walls.
She included sprinklers in her plan, but is exploring a possible modification for a historical house.
Mount Crescent House is named for Lee's parents. The Chinese character for her father's name is translated as "mountain," and her mother's name means "moon."
Lee stumbled across a historical connection between the house's original owner, Henry Bill, and her father as well. Bill made his fortune as a book publisher selling illustrated Bibles. Lee's father, Chun Tai Lee, a Christian, wrote the book in Chinese that translates to "Bible, Christian and the World History."
Inside the house main entrance to the right of the wide hallway, Lee would establish the library. She already spent $800 at the Friends of Otis Library book sale to stock the library with books on American, New England and Norwich history, as well as books on art and culture. One section of the library would house religious books - including her father's book.