A local development company is still working to breathe new life to the historic Keefer House hotel, despite the hurdles of COVID-19.
“We are making progress because of the resilience and encouragement of the Hillsdale community, and our partners at Southern Michigan Bank and Trust, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the City of Hillsdale Tax Increment Finance Authority Board,” President of CL Real Estate Nathan Watson said in a statement. “When we open, we’ll have the greatest celebration sharing this unique community asset with all of Hillsdale.”
The Keefer House hotel project began when CL bought the property in 2018. Since then, the firm has worked to transform the building into a 34-room boutique hotel with a restaurant with three retail spaces and event space. The project hit several hiccups when COVID-19 shutdowns caused economic uncertainty, especially in the hospitality industry. The uncertainty caused the project’s funding providers, MEDC and Southern Michigan Bank and Trust, to reassess the outlook of the project.
While the project navigates COVID-19 delays, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes that the public has not had the opportunity to observe since the project began in 2018.
“Since purchasing the hotel, we did significant remediation to the hotel,” Cohen said. “We removed all the lead, asbestos, mold, and hazardous materials from the building. We’ve spent over a million dollars out of pocket to invest in the architectural and interior designs.”
With a lot of the groundwork out of the way and many of the details picked out, the obstacles have continued to fall away as CL gets closer to breaking ground on the renovation.
“Every day, we are closer to the groundbreaking and re-opening the historic Keefer House Hotel,” Watson said.
While the pace of the progress has been admittedly slow, Cohen said that a lot of behind-the-scenes progress has been made.
Yet the firm has also been sure to take extra precaution.
“Part of it is you don’t want to race the process,” Cohen said. “You don’t want to mess up.”
“It is a 134-year-old building. It is in need of serious improvement to function as a new building would. We want to ensure that whatever we do, we do it right, to restore a piece of history to the community.”
Community is a primary focus of the CL Real Estate team, Watson and CL Real Estate Associate Brant Cohen ’21 said.
“We want this to be an investment not just for us, but for the town,” Cohen said.
Once complete, CL will hand over operation of the hotel to another company that will bring nearly 50 jobs to the community paying above the minimum wage.
“We find companies who have dedicated experience to make this project run and operate at a high level,” Cohen said.
This team involves a dedicated marketing department whose aim is to bring visitors to the hotel and the Hillsdale area. With travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 still in place across the country, Cohen expects lower travel, which may turn out to be crucial, according to an internal market study on the hotel.
“Our operators are confident in what they’ve seen in their properties scattered across Michigan,” Cohen said. “They’ve seen their properties doing well in the destination market more than anything else.”
Positioning the hotel as a destination, the CL team and the Keefer project will commit to the community that surrounds Hillsdale just as much it does on their design and hospitality.
“The old historic commercial block is important for the community,” Cohen said. “The plan here is that our property, through the restaurant and retail spaces, quality of service and quality of the rooms, this property will be unique enough to draw more people into the heart of Hillsdale to stay, to shop, and to dine.”
According to Cohen, COVID-19 has not altered the hotel’s overall plan to be a destination and help build up the area’s resources in the long term. But Cohen did say that the project ran into delays this summer because of COVID-19.