Most investments are made to make a profit. A few are made to make a difference.
Jim and Nancy Cloutier and daughter Blythe Settle followed the latter path in their renovation of the neglected Elgin Hotel in Marion into the Historic Elgin Hotel Bed & Breakfast.
?My banker thinks I?m nuts because I?ve literally put more money into this than I would ever get out of it,? Jim Cloutier said last week.
?Be that as it may, it?s something I wanted to do, and something, hopefully, that some people in the community will pick up on and see that, yes, something like this can be done in Marion to make Marion a better place.?
With the recent opening of the now elegant three-story structure?with public meeting rooms on the first floor, eight B&B rooms on the second floor and personal living quarters on the third?the ?new? Elgin Hotel is a treasure for the town.
Doug Kjellin, economic development director for Marion, said people who stay at the Elgin will benefit other businesses, too.
?As they travel around, they?re going to buy gas, eat, spend money in the same community and hopefully come back,? he said. ?And maybe, if they get really enamored with the area, come here when they decided it?s time to move.
?I just like the fact that we have a high-class, nice place that people can come to. It?s just such a fantastic opportunity to showcase the city.?
For Jim Cloutier, president of family-owned Shawmar Oil & Gas Co. in Marion, renovating the Elgin was an opportunity to combine a personal ambition as well as address a perceived need in the town.
?It all began when my wife and I were looking for a place to redo,? he said. ?Basically, we were looking for a house. While we were looking, we got word that this place might be available.
?Having known of the history of the hotel, it piqued my interest. So, we just kind of went from there, looked at the place and decided let?s take this venture on.?
In doing so, they envisioned creating a place that might serve the town as a meeting facility.
?The one thing I?ve noticed around here, having operated our business every day out of Marion, is that there?s a limited number of places where you can meet privately,? Cloutier said. ?If you don?t want to meet in your office, there was no place around here to do that.?
The idea took hold about three years ago. The Cloutiers immediately hired the architectural firm of Pettijohn and Kenney of Overland Park, the same company that helped transform the town?s old railroad station into a public library.
?We worked with them on designing a plan to take a structure that had 21 apartments in it?all cut up and everything else?and bring it back to the turn-of-the-century establishment it originally was,? Cloutier said.
The building was made into a low-rent apartment house in 1977. Restoring it to its original luster would be a challenge in part because the Cloutiers could find no photographs of the interior to use as their standard.
?What we had to do was interpret what we hoped a place would look like at the turn of the century,? Cloutier said. ?My wife and I are Victorian buffs, so that?s kind of where we were going with it.?
The Cloutiers did follow the functional concept of the original building, though.
?The whole idea was that although this was an operating hotel, it had public spaces here on the first floor,? he said. ? It originally had a dining room, a kitchen, a billiards room and some shops that were actually operating out of here, like a barber shop,? he said.
The completed project continues that tradition. The first floor now offers a ballroom, which has a capacity for 250 people standing or 70 seated around tables, and a conference room that can accommodate 15 to 16 people.
Though the ballroom has a small kitchen area to serve outside caterers, the remaining piece of the Cloutiers? ?public plan? is still in process.
?We?re looking for someone to open a restaurant here,? Jim said. ?I?m not a restauranteur, and do not claim to be. But I do have the space available. It?s designed as such and plumbed that way. It?s ready for someone to come in, do the improvements on it and open the restaurant.?
But Cloutier has a certain kind of restaurant in mind.
?What we?re looking for is somebody to come in and operate it as fine-dining establishment, not a sandwich shop,? he said. ?Maybe at lunch time they can offer sandwiches, but at dinner time it?s tablecloths on the tables and maybe a glass of wine with dinner. That?s what we?re looking for.?
They also want the restaurant to be accessible every day.
?I will not open this to somebody who is not going to be open seven days a week,? he said. ?A restaurant needs to be able to feed people when they want to eat.?
Having a classy restaurant fits the aesthetic intent of the renovation, which includes a marble floor at the entry, an impressive main stairway, and a tasteful interior furnished with Victorian antiques and reproductions.
The family also had a clear vision of what it wanted for the bed-and-breakfast rooms on the second floor.
?We?re a bed and breakfast, but the idea is not to make it look like an old hotel room would have looked,? Cloutier said. ?We designed those rooms so you feel like you?re in a Victorian home and a Victorian bedroom.
?We?re not doing ?theme rooms? and that sort of thing,? he added. ?Everything is basically a turn-of-the-century room with the obvious amenities of having a bathroom, shower and that sort of thing in each room.?
In the northeast corner of the second floor is a parlor that provides space for guests to watch television or enjoy a meal served from an adjacent small kitchen.
But the Cloutiers have kept telephones and televisions out of the guest rooms.
?People come here to get away from that sort of thing,? he said. ?Plus, they have cell phones and we have Wi-Fi here, so if they want to use a computer they can do that.?
The guest rooms rent from $99 to $129 a night, with a breakfast provided in the morning. Daughter Blythe does the cooking and takes most of the reservations.
?My wife and I help her out,? Cloutier said. ?It?s kind of a family business.?
The decision to make the third floor into a family dwelling came relatively late in the project. The original plan was to create a couple of long-term apart?ments up there.
?But we figured if people are staying here, then somebody ought to be here in case something happens,? Cloutier said. ?It took some convincing of my wife, though. We had a house in Hills?boro that was fixed up just the way we wanted it.?
So Cloutier made a persuasive deal with Nancy: ?I told her, ?I?ll let you do whatever you want to do up there.? She said OK.?
The project has been a family endeavor from the start. In fact, Jim and Blythe gutted the first two floors of the building themselves, for the most part. But the scope of project caught up with them about a year into it.
?She got pregnant, so it was just me,? Cloutier said. ?By the time we were at deciding what had to be done on the third floor, I had hit a brick wall. About that time the contractors were in here doing the structural work, and that?s when I said, ?Hey guys, stay here and help me out.? And they did.?
With the project now complete, except for the restaurant, Cloutier said the investment of money, time and energy has been validated by the response of people who already have come in to make use of it.
?So far we?ve had out-of-town folks coming in here and they?ve been very pleased,? he said. ?They say things like, ?Jeez, I didn?t believe something like this could exist in Marion.?
?Marion County has a lot of hidden resources,? he added. ?Especially with the economy the way it is, people within the state will come into these small towns and have an enjoyable weekend.?
For Cloutier, the personal reward goes beyond customer feedback.
?It?s been a large investment,? he said. ?But then again, my family has been in business here for some 45 years. My dad came down here in the early ?60s, started in the oil business down here and made a fine living from the resources we?ve been able to obtain.
?It?s been an opportunity for me to give something back,? Cloutier said. ?At least when I?m gone, I?ve left something behind, physically. Hopefully, the building will be here another 100 years?and then somebody else can redo it.?