Work on Taylor Hotel nears completition

Posted: December 28, 2013

The Winchester Star

This is a view, looking northwest from one of the rear apartments in the Taylor Hotel building. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
The Taylor Hotel renovations, including the iconic balcony and columns, as seen from the window of the Hiram Lodge No. 21 A.F. & A.M. Masonic lodge on the east side of the Loudoun Street Mall Thursday. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
This is the kitchen of one of the apartments in the Taylor Hotel building. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Workers from Imperial Stone Paving brush sand into the brick pavers in the alley beside the Taylor Hotel building. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Tom McFillen, project manager with KEE Construction, looks down the the Loudoun Street Mall from the second story balcony of the Taylor Hotel building late Friday afternoon. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The former Taylor Hotel is almost ready to become a functional building again.

Crews from KEE Construction and its subcontractors spent Friday winding down work on the five apartments on the top two floors of the structure’s front section.

Shortly after Tuesday, the Loudoun Street Mall landmark will become the home of a handful of tenants.

The former hotel building obviously has come a long way since 2010, when Preservation Virginia named the long-vacant, blighted structure as one of the state’s most endangered historic sites.

“It’s just really nice to be able to see the results of all the hard work that everybody’s put into the project, and seeing it round into shape kind of brings that home,” said Erik Wishneff, a partner in Taylor Plaza LLC, which teamed with the Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA) on the $4.3 million project that was just as much a reclamation effort as it was rehabilitation.

Jim Deskins, the EDA’s executive director, walked through part of the building on Friday to see the nearly finished product.

Dozens of workers were spread over the site, handling everything from painting walls inside the original hotel to cutting pavers that comprise the new walkway along the southern border of the site at 119-129 N. Loudoun St.

“I think it’s looking great,” he said. “I think KEE Construction did a wonderful job.”

Tom McFillen, project manager for city-based KEE, said final inspections have been completed and certificates of occupancy for the five units are expected soon.

KEE employees and subcontractors will put the finishing touches on the units and clean them up over the next few days.

“My troops,” he said, “are coming to the front pretty strongly.”

However, because of weather issues early this month, building exterior touch-ups will continue into 2014. McFillen said tenants have been tolerant of the need for the additional outside work.

KEE also will finish the first floor and English basement of the hotel during the next couple of months so Cajun Experience restaurant can bring a taste of New Orleans to Winchester.

Then it will focus its efforts on redeveloping three floors of the rear flytower building for commercial and residential use and finishing the grassy pavilion and farmers market expected to create a new downtown meeting place.

Those parts of the project are due to be completed in the spring or early summer.

Cooperative effort

The completion of the apartments before the Dec. 31 deadline for tax credits to be collected next year is a key milestone for the project, but McFillen said it was possible only because so many people worked together so well.

From the owner/developers to first-phase contractor Lantz Construction of Broadway to the engineers who worked through problems as they arose, he praised the key players as “a very cohesive group.”

On the site, too, local subcontractors played a major role.

“You wouldn’t imagine the intricacies of everything going on here — the courtyard, the flytower, the restaurant and the hotel, all melding together,” McFillen said. “This has been a herculean effort from a lot of people. The local subcontractor base should be applauded for their efforts.”

The project is drawing raves from the people behind it.

Wishneff said he is “amazed” whenever he goes out on the building’s front balconies, because of their size, and is pleased with the interior’s mix of old and new.

“You can see where there were walls that were retained and have imperfections,” he said, “and you can see the walls that are new. I think the blending of the old and new is a neat aspect of the building.”

During his walk-through, Deskins noted that the original building’s flooring that could be saved “turned out pretty good.”

Considerable work

The project’s cooperative efforts were not limited to the construction site.

As vice president of the Roanoke-based tax credit consultant and developer Brian Wishneff & Associates, Erik Wishneff has been around many historic rehabilitation efforts.

Locally, the company has had a hand in two OakCrest Cos. projects — the Lovett Building on the Loudoun Street Mall and the Old Star Building on East Boscawen Street — as well as Shenandoah University’s redevelopment of the Jno. S. Solenberger hardware building on the mall and Phase II of Our Health’s campus development, which involved the rehabilitation of the Snapp Foundry building.

Wishneff called the Taylor Hotel a “challenging project,” but said that was not a negative.

“The building obviously was in such rough shape when we took it over,” he said. “From getting people on board from the historic perspective to making the numbers work to the way the project ended up being phased, there’s definitely been our share of challenges we’ve had to deal with.

“We, the Wishneff side, had some really good partners, from the city to the construction companies to the architects to finance. Everybody’s really worked to make this happen.”

The project is a credit to the city’s leadership, Deskins said. It was strongly supported by staff members, and the City Council pledged $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funds as well as $650,000 from its own coffers (to be repaid) to make the effort possible.

“I think the city has demonstrated tremendous pride in itself, in its history” he said. “That pride is reflected to the rest of the area and the state, and we’re getting attention for that.”

The Taylor Hotel is the latest in a line of downtown projects the EDA has facilitated in recent years.

Deskins said former state Sen. H. Russell Potts told then-EDA Chairman John Scully IV several years ago that “he thought Winchester needed to redo her makeup a little bit, that she was starting to look a little worse for the wear.”

The statement led authority members to take a critical look at the downtown area, he said. They determined that Potts’s observation had merit and committed to work toward improvements, and the projects completed since then have transformed the area.

“We have effectively, with the completion of the Taylor Hotel, redone just about everything in our core downtown and it looks amazing and people are responding in an amazing way,” he said. “People are coming downtown and saying great things about it, and the Taylor Hotel is part of that.

“I think Winchester is about ready to stand as the princess at her own Apple Blossom ball.”

— Contact Vic Bradshaw