After lying nearly dormant for decades, a grand old lady of a hotel in downtown Bellows Falls is getting a facelift and a new life.
The Windham Development Group LLC of Tony Elliott, Jay Eshelman and Erik Leo is renovating the historic Windham Hotel to create retail, restaurant and eventually a fully operating hotel. Originally WDG consisted of Tony Elliott, Jay Eshelman and David Broganer. David sold his share to Tony and Jay and Erik in the fall of 2009.
WDG was formed in 2007 to buy the hotel building from the Town of Rockingham, which purchased it out of foreclosure in the mid-1990s. While the town owned it, the lobby space of the hotel had been used as offices for the Greater Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce and for a time as a recording and performance space.
General contractor Weatherby & Associates of Alstead, NH has been working for weeks now to upgrade and provide basic space, utilities and fire protection throughout the building. Each space will be fitted to the specifications of the tenant.
The new front of the former coffee shop and the new true divided light insulating glass window sash on the second and third floor are being built by The Woodstone Company of Westminster, to match the original design in 1932. Last week the pre-built 22-foot wide coffee shop entry was installed - minus the glass. Glaziers from Woodstone spent the rest of the week adding the glass to the impressive entryway.
A Community Supported Restaurant group (CSR) will be formed to lease the restaurant and kitchen space and outfit it for commercial use.
"This will help to insure the use as a restaurant will continue into the future," said Elliot, "without putting the high capital cost on the proprietor. The model came from Preservation Trust of Vermont who helped to establish Claire's in Hardwick."
Fund raising for the CSR will begin in April. Community members interested in helping should email Tony@Woodstone.com or call 721-3214. Completion is planned for the summer of 2010.
Harvest Moon Catering, owned by Ryan and Sarah James, is planning on leasing the space to operate the kitchen and restaurant and will also help manage the adjacent event space in the dining room and sun porch, which will be available for parties, weddings, business meetings, conferences, and special events beginning this summer.
"The menu will consist of local and sustainable ingredients as much as possible," Sarah said. "Some dishes might be chilled farmstand fire roasted gazpacho or fresh pea and basil soup with lemon zest creme fraiche, Korean barbeque short ribs, grilled mussels with coconut green curry sauce, local cheese plate, and home made potato chips with smoked sea salt served with a creamy roasted onion dip."
The restaurant will be open from Wednesday thru Monday from 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner, and the bar could be open as late as 2 a.m.
"We are hoping to open this June," Sarah said, "though we have no actual opening date at this time."
The owners are contemplating a mixed use of the second and third floor of the building in the future. Plans include hotel rooms and extended stay suites as well as business offices and meeting rooms. A 2011 completion is planned.
The exterior will be landscaped and a new entrance driveway will be built using access in cooperation with the town as agreed upon when the building was purchased. WDG will lease 30 parking spaces in the Bridge Street parking lot.
Over the past decade or more, several downtown Bellows Falls buildings have been given a new life, including the Exner Block on Canal Street, which was renovated to house several apartments with studio space for artists as well as several street level retail spaces, and the burned out Howard Block, which includes several retail spaces as well as a number of second and third floor apartments.
But the building that dominates The Square is the Windham Hotel, and it has long been felt by local officials that bringing the hotel back to life will be a huge factor in the future life of downtown Bellows Falls. Seeing the new windows installed and the interior being renovated brings a lot of welcome hope for the future to the community this spring.