LORAIN — Pardon the dust near the intersection of Broadway and East Erie Avenue.
As construction kicked off Wednesday on the new hotel in the Broadway Building, Lorain Port Authority Executive Director Tom Brown asked the public to excuse the inconvenience because the location is going to be a construction site for the next year.
“But we had this event because we wanted people to see what we’re starting with because we want everybody to be back here in a year to see what we’re finishing with,” he said. “We’ve got some really exciting things that are going to happen in this building.”
Lorain Port Authority Board Chairman Brad Mullins said he’s driven past the building every day for the last 10 years and is proud to finally say that the project is kicking off.
“Everybody’s been asking if it really would happen,” he said. “We’ve gone through other developers and God blessed us with Radhika Reddy and her group. Hopefully, this is the catalyst to spark the rebirth of downtown Lorain.”
Once completed, the hotel, which will be known as Ariel on Broadway by Cobblestone, will be the first hotel in the city in more than a decade.
The building previously served as the Spitzer Plaza Hotel, which closed in 2005 because of low occupancy, and in recent years fell into disrepair. Spitzer Great Lakes Ltd. donated the building to the Lorain Port Authority to kick-start the renovation process.
The Ariel project will restore the building back to a hotel with 55 rooms, a restaurant and event space and cost about $9.1 million, about $1.75 million of which will be covered by historic tax credits.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said he remembers the hotel vividly from when he was a kid and when he looked at the crowd gathered Wednesday morning aiming to get a “before” look at the hotel’s lobby and restaurant, it felt like a family reunion.
“As a mayor, I look at things trying to take the long view,” he said. “We’re grinding out singles, we’re grinding out doubles to try and get things done in the community, but meeting Radhika, working with her and her team as well as the Port Authority? I think this is the rare opportunity as a mayor to hit a grand slam. It’s a grand slam for the city of Lorain.”
Brown said turning the Broadway Building around was his “white whale” project when he joined the agency in 2017 but that all changed when he met Reddy.
Brown said he had seen in an old news story about Reddy that she wanted to bring an “international corridor” to Cleveland but seven years after that article, it hadn’t come to fruition. He then told her about Lorain’s reputation as the “International City.”
“We went basement to rooftop of six buildings on Broadway on a Thursday and the next Tuesday she came back out and said, ‘Tom, you weren’t lying. The sign says you’re the International City,’” he said. “And little things have happened along the way like that. By that following Tuesday, she said she wanted this building and I think we can do something with it.”
Reddy and a team from the 100 percent women-owned business Ariel Ventures, of Cleveland, were at the event Wednesday. She said she and her team has been working hard to make it happened.
“And one of the things that sold us was the fact that Lorain’s the International City,” she said. “As an immigrant from India, I love the idea of bringing global cultures together to create that kind of global understanding. We also wanted to come here because of the entrepreneurial support. In the private sector you can do a little, but with public sector support you can do so much.”
Reddy said many of the project’s contractors will be from Lorain or Lorain County.
Brown said construction will begin on the roof next week and the next step will be the masonry, but there are still opportunities to get in on the ground floor of the inside of the building.
“We still need a restaurant operator,” he said. “We have office space. There’s a lot of space in that basement. We want your input. We want energy. We want foot traffic. We want this building to be a beacon, and it will be.”
Brown thanked the City Council and school board for their unanimous support for the financing package that allowed the project to move forward, including tax increment financing that will provide a tax abatement for the parcel for 30 years, while still requiring the owner to make service payments to the county treasurer to provide a distribution for the city’s school district, as well as community reinvestment area tax break that grants the property owner a 12-year tax exemption for the increase in value of the property after the project is complete.
“It’s never easy asking for breaks, but these are difficult, difficult projects,” Brown said. “It’s a lot easier to build new construction. Historic buildings are tough. We’re going to need every cent to get it done and everyone we went to understood this building. The streetscape is next and will be starting this fall. People don’t realize, but things are happening here.”
Ritenauer echoed Brown’s statements, lauding the “local, homegrown people” putting their money where their mouth is on Broadway, with places like new business Speak of the Devil and several others who have recently purchased buildings in the corridor.
“This is our moment,” he said. “We’re going to remember today because I think this is a transformative opportunity for the city. This really and truly is for the entire city of Lorain.”
Ritenauer said what kept the project going and keeps downtown alive is the faith the people have and their refusal to give up.
“You thought a better day was upon us,” he said. “That day is today.”
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