Published 4/2/2012 in Progress
By JOSEPH JACKMOVICH
As you travel through downtown Garden City, it is difficult to miss the Windsor Hotel. Opened in 1889, the Windsor Hotel has been a centerpiece of the city, though it's seen some changes along the way.
Brad Nading/Telegram A pigeon lands atop the torrent on the Windsor Hotel.
Brad Nading/Telegram Garden City Commissioner Dan Fankhauser, left, and Mayor John Doll as well as Finney County Commissioner Cliff Mayo and Mary Regan of the Finney County Historical Museum toss shovels full of dirt in to a floor opening at the Windsor Hotel to commemorate the groundbreaking for the structure 125 years ago.
Brad Nading/Telegram Don Harness of the Finney County Preservation Alliance talks about shoring up the Windsor structure in the first floor of the building.
The Windsor served as a hotel until 1977, when it was closed by the Kansas State Fire Marshal. It was also home to other small businesses, including a post office, a furniture store and a movie theater.
Since the late 1990s, the Finney County Preservation Alliance has been the group in charge of both preserving the Windsor and preparing it for reentry into the community. Incorporated in 1997, the organization originally came together after raising $10,000 for an architectural evaluation to determine if the Windsor would be suitable for the then-proposed move of county offices. When the Finney County Commission turned the proposal down, the FCPA came together and eventually gained ownership of the building following its donation from Western State Bank and a subsequent purchase of the remainder from Ron Crook, then owner of Crook's Shoe Store.
"That was a big decision on our part to accept," said FCPA President Don Harness.
The biggest change currently on the horizon for the Windsor Hotel is a proposal from development firm GC Windsor Developers, LLC., to turn the Windsor into a mixed-use senior housing development. The proposal, which was narrowly approved by a 5-4 vote on Jan. 4, would turn the Windsor Hotel into 23 apartments for seniors along with space for retail development on the ground floor and reserved space for a museum and public access. The group made a presentation to the board in December 2011 to present the plan, which had to be quickly approved so the group could apply for senior housing tax credits.
Ross Vogel, a member of the GC Windsor development group, said in an earlier interview that he feels the development could be a catalyst to spark growth in the rest of downtown Garden City. He declined to comment on any developments regarding the senior housing tax credits.
Those tax credits are integral to the implementation of the current Windsor proposal. Filed on Feb. 3, the news of whether the tax credits are awarded will not be known until sometime in May. The plan also has to be approved by the Kansas State Historical Society.
"It's a real competitive application," Harness said. "But this is a viable avenue to make it part of the community."
The last proposal to turn the Windsor into a hotel came from a development group out of Denver, New Communities, LLC. From 2007 to 2008, Harness said, the FCPA worked with the group to develop the building into a hotel, but financing could not be secured due to the economic turmoil that occurred that year. At the time, Harness said the FCPA board was beginning to get anxious to move forward on plans for the Windsor.
Harness said that the group is moving forward with its current restoration and stabilization efforts in case the senior housing tax credits are not awarded. In the Jan. 25 annual meeting of the FCPA, Harness said plans for the Windsor need to move forward as if no proposal exists.
"It's a big if," Harness said. "It bodes us well to continue as if there were no senior housing proposal."
Those efforts include a $129,375 Heritage Trust Fund grant and a $711,755 Transportation Enhancement grant for stabilization work on the Windsor. The group also has a $180,000 grant from the Lois Kay Walls Foundation for repairs to the cupola and lobby. The overall plan for the grants is to renovate the Windsor in stages, from the ground floor up.
The issue with continuing grants in the future is that many of them have a 20 percent match, which equals significant fundraising for the group.
"I hope the May application is successful," Harness said. "But we'll keep striving for renovation no matter what."
FCPA board member Norma Nolte is passionate about the Windsor. She said that if it even came to the Windsor being torn down, she would be the one standing in front of the bulldozer. Through her decade of service with the FCPA, Nolte tries to preserve the memories she had about the Windsor when it was still operational.
Nolte, who voted against the senior housing proposal, said that she always had dreams of white tablecloths and gala events at the Windsor Hotel. She recounted a story of a development in Ireland she visited that had a large courtyard with multiple levels of balconies around the perimeter filled with shops and boutiques of various types. Essentially a kind of upscale mall, Nolte loves the idea but admitted that such a project would require a large amount of money and vision.
"In my heart, I didn't feel that senior housing would be anything good for downtown and that's not what the Windsor was meant to be," Nolte said, explaining her Jan. 4 vote. "But I hope it works out."
Whatever the outcome, the Windsor remains an important part of the community. In a recent Feb. 22 celebration that recognized the 125th anniversary of the Windsor groundbreaking, 100 to 150 people came out to show support. Harness said that the turnout, which also included tours of the building, demonstrated how important the building is to the community.
"I was really pleased with that," Harness said. "It demonstrates the importance of the Windsor to the community."
Finney County Preservation Alliance Windsor timeline
1996 — "Save the Windsor" group formed. The group raised $10,000 to hire Brent Bowman and Associates to complete first preliminary feasibility study. The study determined the building was structurally sound and worthy of renovation. the FCPA presented the plan to Finney County commissioners to renovate the Windsor for the new County Administration Center, but the proposal was denied.
1997 — FCPA orchestrates successful cleanup of hotel and holds the first public tour in 20 years.
1998 — FCPA presents a proposal to the Kansas State House of Representatives Committee on Tourism requesting $500,000 to stabilize the former hotel. The bill makes it out of committee but fails on the floor. FCPA works with Kansas State Department of Architecture. A student project generated the first working blueprints and various end use ideas.
1999 — FCPA applies for T-21 Federal Grant with participation from both the city of Garden City and Finney County agreeing to participate with matching funds. The grant was unsuccessful.
2000 — FCPA hosts Community Breakfast to "Brainstorm" about best use for building. Fifty local business and community leaders participate, helping develop first master plan.
2001 — FCPA applies for second T-21 Grant for purchase and restoration of hotel. Grant request fails.
2002 — Western Building Corp. (Western State Bank) purchases Garnand portion of hotel and donates it to organization. FCPA purchases Ron Crook's portion of the building for $35,000.
2003 — FCPA is awarded $40,000 Kansas Heritage Grant and $10,000 in matching funds from the Finnup Foundation for a Historic Structures Report. Work is awarded to Treanor Architects of Lawrence.
2004 — Historic Structures Report is completed by Treanor Architects. FCPA is awarded $82,944 Heritage Trust Grant for emergency stabilization work. The Alliance enters into agreement with the Pioneer Development Group to find a developer.
2005 — FCPA works on stabilization with Heritage Trust Fund Grant work and has fall tour in conjunction with Garden City Downtown Vision.
2006 — FCPA solicits developer New Communities, LLC of Denver for hotel redevelopment.
2007 — FCPA works with New Communities, LLC on business plan and securing financing.
2008 — FCPA dissolves relationship with New Communities and seeks new developer.
2009 — FCPA submits Heritage Trust fund Grant and Transportation Enhancement Grant applications.
2010 — FCPA awarded $112,500 HTF and $711,757 TE grants and 20 percent local match from Stracklejohn fund.
2011 — FCPA awarded extra $13,500 for HTF and $180,000 from Lois Kay Walls Foundation for cupola and lobby.
Source: Don Harness
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