Historic hotel will once again bring in business

Laura Campbell / Free Press<p>Jim Cloutier, owner of Shawmar Oil Co. of Marion and Cardie Oil Co. of Tampa, has purchased the historic Elgin Hotel building in Marion and plans to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast, restaurant and conference center. ?This is going to have to be a destination place?we?re going to have bring people from all around,? he said. Click image to enlarge.

Jim Cloutier of Hillsboro has more square feet to renovate than he ever expected?15,000 of them, actually.

What?s more, they make up the historic Elgin Hotel that some may never have expected to be used once again for its original purpose?bringing in out-of-towners for a luxurious stay in downtown Marion.

Cloutier hopes to perform the unexpected, he said, by reopening the three-story hotel as a bed-and-breakfast, restaurant and conference center by the 2008 Old Settler?s Day weekend next September.

The owner of Shawmar Oil Co. of Marion and Cardie Oil Co. of Tampa was looking for a house to renovate when he was offered the opportunity to purchase the Elgin Hotel at Third and Santa Fe.

?I was approached with this building, and knowing the history of the building and everything else, I jumped at the chance,? he said.

?I wanted to do a house?I wasn?t figuring on a whole 15,000 square feet of an old hotel.?

Cloutier purchased the building, built in 1886 and now one of more than 20 Marion County sites on the National Register of Historic Places, last September from Jim Strawn of Hutchinson.

Strawn had bought the building in the 1990s off the auction block, after it had already been renovated in the 1970s to hold apartments.

The original Elgin had 42 rooms and a dining room that seated 80 people. It was closed in the 1950s.

Cloutier and daughter Blythe Settles began gutting the inside of the building, he said, about a month after the purchase.

?We had to wait till everybody got moved out,? he said. ?So it was probably October when we started tearing out all the walls and everything down here.?

With that stage basically completed, Cloutier is just finishing up exterior repairs to the roof and other parts of the building before they begin actually rebuilding the inside.

?Hopefully, in the fall, we?ll get into restructuring everything,? he said.

?We?re shooting to be able to have this thing reopened again?the first two floors?by Old Settler?s Day in September of 2008.?

On the first floor will be a variety of spaces that should work together to provide a practical but elegant space for people to work, play and eat.

In addition to a restaurant for fine dining in the northwest corner, the main level will hold a small parlor as a waiting area, a conference room that can also act as a spillover area for the restaurant and a ballroom that should seat up to about 200 people for all sorts of receptions and events.

An elevator is now located where the original staircase used to be, but a new big, winding staircase will take guests up to the eight bed-and-breakfast rooms with private baths on the second floor, which will also feature a dining room, parlor and kitchen. The third floor will house a private residence.

?With the bed and breakfast up above, we?ll be able to cater the conference room,? Cloutier said.

?That?s the whole idea?to bring businesses in here where they can stay overnight or for the weekend.

?The conference room?s here because here in Marion there?s no place to go when (you) have businesspeople come in?no place to sit down and meet if you don?t want to be in your office,? he added.

Costs for the bedrooms are still being determined, he said, but will likely be in the range of $75 to $125 per night.

On the upper end of that scale will the Governor?s Suite, a large area named for an important part of the Elgin Hotel?s history.

?People don?t realize that the governor?s ball was held here a couple of times just after the turn-of-the-century,? Cloutier said.

?The governor was from Marion at that point in time.?

Furnishing for that room and every other will be in the Victorian style, he added, and thanks to wife Nancy?s antique shopping, most of it is already in his possession.

?She?s been having a ball spending all of our money on that,? Cloutier said with a laugh.

?We have furnishings for eight bedrooms?she?s already purchased most of that stuff. We?ve got most everything for the parlors, too.?

Some of the antique furnishings will be from the original building?like the railing for the second-floor balcony.

?We?ll open up the balcony so you can get back out on the balcony?we found the railing for it, and we?ll put that back up again,? he said.

?There?s a lot of history in this building?a lot of stuff we?ll be able to play off of.?

His daughter will run the bed and breakfast, said Cloutier, but he?s still looking for someone to run the restaurant.

?We do want to something more in the fine-dining type of situation?in the evening, tablecloths on the table,? he said.

?And it has to be open seven days a week. If you?re going to open a restaurant, you need to be open when the public wants to eat, and unfortunately, that?s seven days a week.?

With the restaurant available for catering and the ballroom available for receptions, Cloutier is definitely excited about the opportunity to host weddings in the building.

?We have a nice area outsidethat we?ll get all fixed up for a courtyard and be able to have outdoor weddings,? he said.

?So we?ll do that, and put together wedding packages.?

Whether for business or plasure, the new Elgin will offer a meeting place and, Cloutier hopes, a tourist attraction in Marion.

?This community?s not going to support a bed and breakfast, nor will it support a restaurant of the fashion that we?re wanting to put in here,? he said.

?This is going to have to be a destination place?we?re going to have bring people from all around.?

But it?s also going to take a community effort to keep those people coming back, he said.

?I can get people here, and I can get them to spend one night here, but I can?t get them to come back if there isn?t anything for them to do,? he said.

?I?m hoping this will spark some more improvements around here and get Marion back on the map.?

And Cloutier has shown he?s willing to do his part to make that happen.

?We?re not going to make money at this?I?m not doing this to make money,? he said.

?It?s an opportunity for me to do something with what we?ve been able to do here and give something back to the community?open this building back up for what it was originally purposed for so there?s place for the public to meet.?

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