Formerly written-off, "unsalvageable" buildings have been restored in many communities including Buffalo. There are a few building types that are most difficult to bring back, notably railroad stations and historic hotels. Finding a new use for a rail station is a challenge, particularly if it must be repurposed. For a large, old hotel, restoring former grandeur is labor intensive and expensive.
Developers in Buffalo are looking to restore the Statler and Lafayette hotels. Both have seen better days and each will require significant investment to restore and reuse them. Rocco Termini is putting together a reuse plan for the Lafayette Hotel while the potential buyers of the Statler are still trying to finalize a purchase for what is anticipated to be an $80 million renovation project.
Many people see the buildings and cannot envision a new use or new life. Half or more of commenters on Statler stories in The Buffalo News push demolition as the only viable alternative, despite evidence locally and nationally that restoration of such a large building is possible. In fact, as seen in the rebirth of the Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit and elsewhere, rebirth of a historic hotel can be a watershed event for a community.
The King Edward Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi is a historic property once destined for a date with the wrecking ball. The building had been vacant for over four decades. Just cleaning out the building, including removal of 18,000 pounds of pigeon droppings, took three months. The Statler is in mint condition comparatively. It is a project that would not have gotten completed without a great deal of government intervention, but it has turned out to be a beauty.
What was once decried as a symbol of Jackson's crumbling downtown is set to be reborn as the latest step in revitalizing the heart of the city.
Mid-December is the target time to open a 186-room Hilton Garden Inn inside the building, and people are set to begin moving Jan. 1 into the building's 64 one- and two-bedroom apartments.
"I knew we were going to get here," the project's developer, David Watkins, said of the final stages of a seven-year effort to revitalize the historic building. "It just gives me (chills) to know this property is going to open in Jackson."
It looks to be one of the most significant steps yet in turning downtown's fortunes around.
The city has lost a sizeable amount of people to fast-growing communities in Madison and Rankin counties over the years, and Jackson's business and community leaders hope the King Edward restoration and several other planned mixed-use developments will bring people back to downtown.
Watkins and his investment partners, including former New Orleans Saints and University of Mississippi running back Deuce McAllister, endured their share of setbacks and challenges to get to this point.
Watkins had to overcome losing the initial bid to restore the hotel, which had deteriorated into what he described as inches-thick piles of bird excrement and debris from the old hotel, surrounded by decrepit walls and broken windows, on many of the floors.
King Edward's status as a historic building added extra layers of scrutiny to the exterior and interior of the building, and developers had to hash out various details with city and state officials.
Watkins estimates 40 percent of the project's cost was related to meeting historic-building standards. It also added a year to the construction process.
Along the way, he was able to secure a $2 million state loan that replaced a cancelled $2 million federal Housing and Urban Development grant, as well as various tax credits and Gulf Opportunity Zone funding to further the restoration.
The Hilton Garden Inn features replicas of the old millwork and trim work of the King Edward Hotel. Its main ballroom is modeled after its predecessor.
But the hotel rooms and lobby restaurant are bigger, and the rooms feature modern amenities like wireless hookups. Double-plated windows have been put in rooms facing railroad tracks separating downtown from the Metro Parkway to block out excessive noise from passing trains.
An official grand opening is being planned for Feb. 20, once those inspections are done, Watkins said. He, too, hopes the new King Edward building ushers in a new era for downtown.
"I've watched people move out of the city, and it was painful," he said. "We need a vibrant, pristine capital city."
Bottom three images from Clarian Ledger.