On the corner of Howell and North Streets in downtown Hillsdale, the 133-year-old historic Keefer House sits empty. But not for long.
By the end of 2021, the Keefer House will be transformed into a boutique hotel. The Keefer House is one piece of downtown Hillsdale’s historic renovations.
The Keefer House was purchased by Hillsdale’s Tax Increment Finance Authority in October 2016 and then they signed a purchase agreement with Keefer House LLC in May 2018.
Mary Wolfram, who was hired by Hillsdale’s TIFA as a consultant to work with C.L. Real Estate, said the mission of TIFA is to get empty buildings rehabbed, redeveloped, and active to increase economic activity.
“Looking at what buildings are most important to reactivate, the Keefer House is the big white elephant in the room,” Wolfram said. “It’s empty, it’s right there in the middle of a key intersection. It’s kind of the biggest, most obvious thing to do.”
The Keefer House became a hotel in 1885. In recent years, the Keefer was owned by Jeffrey and Marcy Horton before the purchase by TIFA. The goal of both the original owner and TIFA was always to restore the Keefer back into a luxurious hotel.
“The original owners, had a vision, and his vision was always to make it a boutique hotel and a tourists’ attraction and turn Hillsdale more into a positive tourists’ attraction kind of place,” Wolfram said.
In addition to this vision, Wolfram said there is a great need for an upscale hotel due to the many events hosted by Hillsdale College, such as CCAs.
“We know there’s a ready-market for hotel rooms, there’s a demand,” Wolfram said.
Brant Cohen ‘18 is an associate for C.L. Real Estate. He will be managing the project and is the face of C.L. Real Estate, as this is their first expansion into Michigan. Cohen said that when he was a student at Hillsdale College he remembered walking by the building and hoping that one day it would be renovated and reopened.
“All of the members of Hillsdale’s community have hopes and dreams to see the Keefer open again. Many of them remember working there, many of them remember visiting there, eating at the restaurant, and it’s been closed for so long,” Cohen said. “It was built at the peak of Hillsdale’s growth, around the 1890s, and it symbolizes a really active time in the community, and to see it empty, just sitting empty in the community is kind of sad.”
Nathan Watson, the general manager of real estate development for C.L Real Estate said they will begin construction in the mid-portion of 2019. While the overall layout of the building is still in its preliminary stages, he plans on having 34 total rooms. The rooms will consist of 6 suites, 2 extended stay units, and the remaining rooms will be a combination of double and queen beds.
The boutique hotel will also contain a full-service restaurant open to both the public and hotel guests.
“We haven’t determined the process for the restaurant, we’re hoping for it to be very upscale, but we can’t guarantee that,” Watson said.
In addition to the restaurant, Watson said that the Keefer House LLC will lease storefronts to local businesses who offer very interesting and high-quality products. Cohen is responsible for finding tenants.
“I’m looking for liable tenants who will provide a quality business that will both address the upscale style of the boutique hotel experience, while providing kind of a unique experience for the shoppers here within in the city,” Cohen said. “We want to increase visitors, to entice them to come to Hillsdale, not only to shop in our stores, but to walk around town.”
Looking ahead, Cohen hopes that this renovation will send a positive message throughout the community that Hillsdale is on it’s upturn.
“For me, getting that building open is bringing a lot of happiness to a lot of people, filling a market need, and also doing something wonderful,” Cohen said. “I’m excited to see all of that impact on the community and hope that it leads to further growth for Hillsdale down the road. I’m hoping for more visitors, more opportunities for all of the businesses in town to continue to grow by keeping the guests here, and providing a quality experience to everyone within the city.”
Just down the street from the Keefer House, TIFA will also be renovating the Dawn Theatre so long as they receive a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. TIFA will continue to own the Dawn and Keefer House LLC will be responsible for managing the theatre and is hoping to attract hotel guests by hosting events in the theatre.
“The Dawn Theatre will be what we call a multi-use facility. It will mostly be hosting events like wedding receptions, banquets, business conferences, the typical thing you would find in any rental or banquet hall,” Wolfram said.
TIFA is also writing into the management agreement the requirement that the Dawn is available for community events on a weekly basis. Community events could include classic film showings, small theatre shows, and small theatre events.
Editor’s Note: A correction was made in the third graf to clarify that a purchase agreement was made in May.