Developing Discussions: Council to move ahead with boutique hotel funding – timesobserver.com

Wendleboe

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton This building – the former Wendelboe building or Watt office building – on Liberty St. in downtown Warren is the subject of a proposal for a boutique hotel.

Allocating the city’s $7 million in awarded state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funding for development projects in the city has been a moving target.

Warren City Council has now, though, granted preliminary blessing to several projects including one that would transform a vacant building — or maybe buildings — on Liberty Street into a boutique hotel.

The biggest award entertained Monday was to DewBoi properties for what’s being called the Wendelboe Hotel, an 18-room boutique level hotel with a 25 to 40 seat cafe, according to documents presented at the meeting.

The proposed location is the former Watt Office Supplies building on Liberty Street.

Tom Christenson of DewBoi Properties said the building has “been empty for a while.” He said the proposal would be for 15 hotel rooms and two efficiency apartments in addition to the cafe.

He came to council seeking $1.5 million in RACP funding. Conveniently, council on Monday terminated a sub-grantee agreement with the developer seeking to build a senior living complex on the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Liberty St.

City Manager Nancy Freenock said Pa. Senior Housing Associates intends to use tax credits to fund the project and can’t utilize the RACP money due to an affiliation they have with Hudson Companies.

Even though the firm doesn’t want the RACP money, Freenock said they remain “very interested” in the project and “are very anxious for this project to proceed.”

Christenson said the total project cost for his initiative is $4 million to $4.2 million and that the remainder of the funding would be borrowed.

The project pitched on Monday just requires the former Watt or Wendelboe building but could include both the former Brick House and Allegheny Floral buildings that are adjacent.

“We’re trying to acquire those buildings also,” Christenson told council, noting that the extra space would permit more rooms and a conference space. “This project is a standalone,” he said. “The floor plan provided is just for this building.”

Councilman John Wortman asked Christenson how confident he is in the private match required to complete the project.

“Pretty comfortable,” he responded. “(We have a) significant amount of our own money to add to the pile.” He said the bank he’s working with is waiting on the city’s decision on the RACP grant. “(I’m) pretty confident they can fund this project based on our ability to pay” and a provided business plan.

Since this was his first time before council, Christenson said the company is five years old and initially focused on acquiring rental properties.

“(We) started looking downtown,” he said. “I love the area. I love it here.” He said he wants to “fix” the subject properties.

He also emphasized to council that he thinks there’s sufficient demand to support two boutique hotels. Another has been proposed for the riverfront on the second floor of the HIY, Inc. building.

Wortman said he is “very excited about this project” and supporting efforts “that are supported by our public to get into our town. (I) think we need to have as many people staying in the city as possible.”

Citing “wonderful amenities,” he argued that “to not try to get people when they come here to stay downtown… (to) try to invest in those local businesses I think is really a tragedy. Our downtown is so beautiful.

Council approved a motion directing city staff to continue with the $1.5 million allocation. A resolution and sub-grantee agreement will be back before council at a future meeting.

Freenock said Christenson’s firm may come back in the future to ask council to consider leasing parking spaces in the Midtown Lot for hotel occupants. That might also include access to a loading zone.

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