MONROE - Closed for the last four years, the historic City Hotel on West Front Street was abuzz this month with whining power saws and falling hammers.
The building's owner and redeveloper, Ken Wickenheiser, was inside working up a sweat in his jeans and T-shirt as he laid flooring alongside his crew.
The 1850-era building is set to reopen late next month as a higher-end "boutique hotel" following a $500,000 renovation that Mr. Wickenheiser began in the fall of last year.
Most of the rooms will rent for $80 to $90 a night, Mr. Wickenheiser said, and will feature wood floors, kitchenettes, flat-panel televisions, and marble tile showers. A limestone fireplace will grace the lobby.
After purchasing the hotel in September, 2006, for a price of about $200,000, Mr. Wickenheiser was looking to turn the three-story building into a mixed-use development with commercial space on the ground floor and residential apartments on the second and third floors.
But following a suggestion by John Patterson, president and chief executive officer of the Monroe Tourism Bureau, Mr. Wickenheiser said he changed his mind. He decided instead to turn the building back into a hotel - albeit with much larger and nicer rooms than before. It had 48 rooms when it closed, and will reopen with 11.
Mr. Patterson said he was pleased with the decision.
"Having a downtown hotel is a vital part of having a thriving downtown I think it's going to be the nucleus of the revitalization of downtown."
Mr. Wickenheiser said the reason he is filling his building with hotel rooms rather than apartments comes down to advancements in computer technology.
The hotel business has traditionally involved significant overhead expenses, such as costs of paying doormen and employing round-the-clock desk staff. So to turn a significant profit, hotels needed to fill a large number of rooms.
But by incorporating labor-saving devices such as computerized doors, an Internet-based reservation system, and security cameras that can be monitored from hundreds of miles away, Mr. Wickenheiser said his hotel can be more nimble and profitable.
"Ten years ago you couldn't have done this because you just couldn't justify the overhead of a staff to service 11 rooms," said Mr. Wickenheiser, 36, of Monroe. "Now that it makes sense money-wise, I think you're going to see more people building a lot more of these smaller, nicer places."
Mr. Wickenheiser has begun a contest to generate suggestions for a new name for the hotel. The winner will receive a free two-night weekend package. Suggestions can be sent to email@example.com.
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