What is the fate of the Hill Top House Hotel?
Sometimes a little exploration can pay off. On a 2012 trip to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, my wife and I discovered a large abandoned hotel overlooking the Shenandoah River. The property included many other buildings as well as this million dollar view.
We returned to the site the first week of April this year and found that it was still abandoned and in much worse condition than nine years ago.
But, of course, there is a story here.
Opened in 1888, the Hill Top House Hotel served as the first hotel until 2008. It was rebuilt after two fires in 1912 and 1919 and was founded and operated by Thomas Lovett, an African-American businessman. Over the years, it has attracted many famous guests, including Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton, as well as Alexander Graham Bell and Mark Twain.
The property may be abandoned, but this is not forgotten, as it was purchased in 2007 by SwaN and Legend Venture Partners. The new owners drew up extensive plans to renovate – in fact rebuild from the foundation – the hotel, returning it to the grandeur it once enjoyed. In fact, the new design replicates the look of the hotel in 1912.
Plans for the property include a 120-room resort with a spa and infinity pool, chef’s garden, bowling alleys, and conference facilities. Plans for other historic buildings on the property include living history hotel suites and cooking and photography schools.
The developers were planning to start construction on the $ 139 million project in 2020, but of course the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted that.
But this is just one obstacle in a long history of political intrigue in small towns that has delayed the project. This plot includes a contested municipal election, which ended in the Supreme Court of West Virginia. After a 13-month legal battle, the court ruled that four uncounted provisional votes should be allowed, which knocked out an incumbent with one vote. The controversy also included an illegal vote cast by the mayor’s daughter who lives in Salt Lake City. She was convicted of illegal voting.
After all of this, Harpers Ferry officials seem to support the project, but the two sides can’t seem to cross the finish line.
At the top of the list of issues is the ownership of the roads leading to the property. As this is a residential area, the roads are publicly owned. The promoter is ready to buy the roads and improve them; city officials want a long-term lease.
The developer says funding is dependent on ownership of all properties around the hotel.
There is no doubt that the hotel would be a major economic boost for the historic city of 300 residents, but feelings are mixed about the project.
The state appears to be okay with the project and has given owners $ 48.6 million in tourism tax credits.
The co-founder of the investment firm, Fred Schaufeld, is well known in Washington, DC, as a co-owner of the Nationals, Wizards, Mystics and Capitals. He and his wife, Karen, are active in organizations dedicated to education, health, environment, peace, interfaith tolerance, military support and the arts.
For now, Hill Top House Hotel is an idea on paper.