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Developer of St. Clair Inn snaps up 2 more historic St. Clair County buildings

The California real estate development firm that will finish its $40 million renovation of the historic and iconic St. Clair Inn in St. Clair this summer has been smitten with more of the county’s history.

In September, Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based J.D. Market Acquisitions, a real estate broker, developer and property manager that owns or operates a variety of retail and residential housing in California and Utah, bought the Harrington Hotel in Port Huron, a building that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Renovation work has begun on the building. Jeff Katofsky, the president of J.D. Market Acquisitions, said the hotel will be restored to its original architectural glory, with work expected to finish this summer, when its 82 rooms will open and operate under the Best Western Premier brand.

When asked about the restoration budget, Katofsky said: “We will be all in at $12 million.”

And in January, Katofsky closed on the purchase of the vacant three-story former St. Clair Middle School, just a few blocks from the St. Clair Inn. It will be converted into small apartments targeted at millennials and employees of the Harrington and the St. Clair Inn.

Built by prominent Port Huron attorney Charles Harrington in 1896 on Military Street in the heart of downtown, the Harrington Hotel was the center of the city’s political and social life for decades. It is a five-story, red brick building that combines elements of Richardsonian Romanesque and Classical Revival styles.

In 1919, Harry Truman, who would later become president, and his wife, Bess, spent their honeymoon there.

Other dignitaries to stay there over the years included U.S. Secretary of Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, actor Otis Skinner, comedian Eddie Foy Sr., boxing champion Robert Fitzsimmons and Thomas Edison.

In 1940, when the movie “Young Tom Edison” premiered in Port Huron, guests included the movie’s star, Mickey Rooney, movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, Harvey S. Firestone Jr., Edsel Ford and Father Edward Flanagan, founder of Boys Town.

The hotel fell on hard times in the 1950s and the 1960s. By the early 1980s, many of its rooms were rented on a weekly or monthly basis. After threats of demolition by city officials, the hotel was converted into an assisted living center for seniors, which closed in 2017.

Randy Maiers, the president and CEO of the Port Huron-based Community Foundation of St. Clair County, said the purchase and renovation of the Harrington is particularly meaningful. “This was the last large vacant building downtown. Ten years ago, there were multiple large vacant buildings, including the Sperry furniture building, the YMCA, the Michigan National Bank building and the Art Van building.”

The Harrington’s lobby, hallways and stairway banisters feature beautiful quarter-sawn oak, with many finely carved details. But the floors have been covered with cheap carpet and support columns on the main floor covered with painted wood.

Rick Barreca, Katofsky’s partner and chief operating officer, who has been spending three weeks a month in St. Clair County overseeing first the St. Clair Inn project and now the Harrington, said the carpet will be stripped off to reveal the granite below, the paint and wood on the columns removed and drywall that had been put up over the years removed. He also plans to put in a skylight where there is now a ceiling above the five-story interior stairway.

He said the empty, stately Harrington caught his eye and last summer, he asked a real estate agent he had worked with in St. Clair, Korissa Wilkins of Kramer Commercial Realty, about it. “I said, ‘You know that building in downtown Port Huron? I love it. Do you know anything about it?’ And she said, ‘It’s my listing. I’ll show it to you.’ Things went quickly.”

Barreca said he and Katofsky had been worried about having enough space at the St. Clair Inn to house all the back-office operations and the washers and dryers, as well as where to put the overflow of guests coming to town for weddings or special occasions. The Harrington has a huge basement, with plenty of room for banks of commercial dryers and washers, offices for accountants and other back-office support. They will also renovate a huge stone fireplace along one wall and renovate and reopen a bar that closed many years ago.

According to a tax-abatement application Katofsky filed with the city, under the name Hip Hip, Huron! LLC, the renovation will create 60 jobs during construction and a range of 25 to 40 full-time and 15 to 40 part-time employees after completion.

The brick school building Katofsky closed on in January will be converted in the next year or so to 72 apartments of about 450 square feet each. The apartments will be targeted at St. Clair Inn or Harrington employees but not restricted to them. “We’re targeting young people who maybe are living with their parents now and can’t find affordable housing,” said Barreca, who said rent will be in the $375 to $450 a month range. Residents will have access to the large gymnasium.

A 600-seat auditorium in the school will be rented out for corporate and other commercial events. All the baked goods needed by the St. Clair Inn and the Harrington will be made in the school’s large kitchen.

Katofsky said he had a preliminary meeting in December with State Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) and officials from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority about loans and tax credits for the school redevelopment.

“They were very receptive to our concept plans. We are in the midst of putting that package together to get to them for their formal consideration and approval, which we expect,” said Katofsky.

Moving along at the St. Clair Inn

Work continues at the St. Clair Inn, which will operate under the Tribute by Marriott brand, a bit behind the original construction schedule that called for completion in March. Barreca said some of the inn’s seven restaurants and bars will open in May, with rooms in the south wing coming online in June or July and soon after in the north wing, where a third story has been added to the original two.

In addition to the 106 hotel rooms, three new stand-alone cottages along the St. Clair River on the south side of the inn have been finished, two of them with three bedrooms and one with two.

The inn is arguably the greatest symbol of the renaissance happening all along the St. Clair River, from Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair. It was built in 1926, after the St. Clair Rotary Club decided the city should have a grand hotel befitting the area’s status as the center of the boating world and did a public offering of $180,000 to build a 60-room hotel. When it opened on Sept. 22, 1926, it was the first U.S. hotel with air conditioning. The inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

In 2014, after a long decline under a series of owners, the inn closed.

The next year came news of a new owner from California who came into control of the property under unusual circumstances, to say the least. Katofsky closed on the purchase for $4.1 million in January 2016.

Katofsky is also a lawyer, and was hired to help solve some legal problems the inn’s last owner, Remo Polselli, was having with projects in Florida. Polselli served a sentence for federal income-tax evasion in 2003, and in 2010, his Waterfront Hotel Ventures LLC, which owned the St. Clair Inn, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

To settle a suit Katofsky later filed against Polselli involving Florida transactions, he was given the chance to buy Polselli’s three properties in Michigan, the Metropolitan Hotel in Romulus near Metropolitan Airport, the St. Clair Inn and the Sugar Loaf Resort, an iconic landmark in the Leelanau Peninsula northwest of Traverse City that has sat idle for years.

In the summer of 2016, the Metropolitan Hotel, shuttered in 2012, reopened as the Radisson Hotel Detroit Metro Airport.

St. Clair-based Westhaven Builders LLC and architect Vincent Cataldo of the St. Clair firm of Infuz Ltd. are doing the St. Clair Inn, the Harrington and the middle school.

In addition to the new cottages, the inn will have an outdoor pool and sauna, an amphitheater for outdoor weddings and other events, fire pits, a bocce ball court and a man-made beach behind a new portion of seawall in front of the north wing that will allow patrons to go into the water without having to worry about being swept downriver.

The large open meeting room on the ground floor and what is being called a skybar above it on the second floor, both under construction between the two wings of hotel rooms, required 35 steel support beams to be driven 140 feet to bedrock.

Across Riverside Drive from the inn, a two-story 19,000-square-foot multi-use office and retail complex will begin construction soon. It will include a fitness center, bakery, florist, hair and nail salon, photography studio and art gallery.

Katofsky said rooms at the inn will go for a minimum of $150 a night, with suites going for more than $400. The three cottages will vary from $500-$750 in the off season and from $1,500-$2,200 during times of high demand.

 

Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on February 10, 2019.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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