The City of Hillsdale is negotiating a contract with a company looking to purchase the Keefer House, an abandoned hotel in downtown Hillsdale.
Director of Economic Development Mary Wolfram said the city is is working with the unidentified company to negotiate a price and a business proposal. Wolfram said the development agreement includes certain “benchmarks” the company is required to accomplish within two years of the purchase.
She said the city hopes these requirements will help restore the Keefer House — located on Howell Street — into a hotel once again.
Through the Tax Increment Financing Authority, or TIFA, the city bought the Keefer House in October 2016.
“TIFA purchased the properties of the Keefer House and Dawn Theater in 2016 in the expectation of having them returned to their original scope and purpose, as a hotel and downtown entertainment venue,” said Robert Socha, TIFA board member.
Wolfram said the city hopes to reinstate the Keefer House as a hotel.
“The reason we bought it was to find a developer and develop it into a hotel, maybe apartments” she said. “We bought it because it had been sitting empty and there was no attempt to develop it for many, many years. It died an inglorious death.”
Wolfram said Hillsdale had to buy the property, because searching for developers is only possible for properties the city owns. In its search for potential buyers, TIFA submitted a Request for Proposal, or RFP, this past March. This is a document that asks potential buyers to send business proposals.
When nothing came of the RFP, TIFA submitted a Request for Qualifications, or RFQ, in September. This determines the eligibility and possible success of potential buyers.
“We got two qualified statements back,” Wolfram said. “We are pursuing the better of the two.” This entire process has taken a great deal of time, as it has been over a year since TIFA bought the Keefer House. Wolfram said these processes, however, are necessary.
“People criticize government for how long everything takes, but there’s a reason for it,” she said. “The TIFA board only meets every other month. It’s a group of volunteers from the business community.”
The Keefer House itself was built in 1885 and functioned as a hotel until 1965, when it became a rooming house. It ultimately closed in the early 2000’s. According to Hillsdale’s Historic Walking Tour, the building “has three storefronts facing on Howell Street and extends along North Street all the way to the mid-block alley.”
The hotel boasts famous guests such as sharpshooter Annie Oakley and scout William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. According to the Historic Walking Tour, it has 54 guest rooms, as well as a dining room and two saloons. It was the site of many social events, including weddings and dances.
Wolfram said the Keefer House contributes to the historic worth of Hillsdale.
“Our entire downtown is on the national register of historic places,” Wolfram said. “That is because we have so many historic buildings in our historic district. The Keefer House is apart of that.”