Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

February 2, 2014

Change on the horizon

Chamber’s State of the Community luncheon highlighted by Baker renovation update


Mineral Wells Index

— By CLINT FOSTER

cfoster@mineralwellsindex.com

It almost sounds too good to be true.

As the Index reported last October, Mineral Wells’ famous Baker Hotel is finally on pace for an unprecedented renovation.

Thanks to the concerted effort of a virtual dream team of hotel development partners – led by Southlake businessman Laird Fairchild of Hunter Chase Capital Partners –the derelict property that has epitomized Mineral Wells’ gradual fall from grace over the past five decades could very soon harken a glorious rebirth into new era of prosperity, unmatched even by the city’s heyday when Crazy Water flowed in the South’s greatest health resort.

Chad Patton – a vice president and financial advisor at Merrill Lynch and prominent member of the Baker Hotel development team – was on hand at the Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Community luncheon, Friday afternoon, to not only confirm that the project was, indeed, a reality, but also to provide an update on it’s progress and give the public an exclusive first look at the hotel’s future as a “Four-star destination resort, spa and conference center.”

“Those rumors that you’ve heard and the articles that have come out in the Index are all true,” Patton told a packed gym at Mineral Wells First Baptist Church. “We’ve actually been working on this project for a very long time.”

Six years ago, Patton, Fairchild and their partners embarked on this quest to breath new life into the once proud Baker – a building they passed frequently on the way to and from hunting trips at the Rhodes Ranch, which Fairchild has leased for 12 years.

Even then, they could see the enormous potential that lied dormant in the imposing structure that comprises the entire Mineral Wells skyline.

“It just calls you. You drive by and it beckons you,” Fairchild said in a past interview. “You can tell that a renovation would have a huge impact on [Mineral Wells].

“From my background in specialized real estate, I knew that there were some programs out there for buildings such as that and towns such as Mineral Wells.

“I think it’s almost like my responsibility, knowing that town as well as I do and knowing some of those programs that were out there that could help benefit that building, that I needed to take a stab at it.”

Patton said the team is closer than ever before to finally breaking ground, having identified capital sources for all but $4 million of the project’s $56 million budget.

He said they have made a 4B Bond Issuance request with the City of Mineral Wells for the final $4 million, for which a referendum vote is tentatively scheduled for this May.

A whopping 84 percent of the budget is made up of federal and state incentive capital in the form of federal and state historic tax credits, federal new market tax credits and an Environmental Protection Agency grant for lead and asbestos abatement, just to name a few.

“The benefit of this project is almost $50 million (of federal and state capital) being infused right onto the corner of Hubbard and 1st Avenue,” Patton said. “We are extremely excited to be able to move forward to deliver this project for everyone in this community and those outside that want to come visit.

“It comes with a tremendous amount of sophisticated financing and all those pieces are being put together at a rapid pace.

“We’re coming to an end to the identification of capital, which, in essence, is the hardest part of this project.”

The Baker renovation project stands to create a bushel of new job opportunities. Fairchild told the Index that the project’s general construction partner out of Austin, Mark Rawlings, is “determined to utilize local workforce, as much as possible,” throughout the entire restoration process.

According to Patton’s presentation, the construction alone could generate as many as 357 local jobs, as well as an additional 293 new permanent jobs after the hotel is finished.

As important as the numbers are though, a major aspect of Patton’s presentation was the vision for a renovated Baker Hotel and its amenities: a unique mix of it’s original art-deco glory combined with modern comforts and luxury.

For the first time, members of the public saw floor plans and “mood boards” for every part of the hotel.

“The design team calls this concept ‘Palo Pinto Chic,’” Patton said of the hotel’s unique style. “I love that term.

“It’s appropriate for this community. You can go there on a Friday night if you weren’t staying there with your jeans and cowboy boots on or have a more formal affair there.

“If you felt like wearing a cowboy hat, you could certainly do that there as well.”

To make the hotel more attractive for potential visitors, every two to three rooms will be combined to give the hotel about 155 larger rooms, instead of 450 small rooms.

Patton said most rooms will be around 900 square feet, the size of a “junior suite,” and feature the original, refurbished doors to make the hotel corridors look exactly as they did decades ago.

Patton said the average daily rate for these luxurious rooms would be a reasonable $165 per night, contributing to a net operating income of $3.2 million. The key to the hotel’s success is the spa on the second floor.

Patton said this floor will be dedicated entirely to modern health, featuring a state-of-the-art fitness center – where local residents could be members and do yoga, pilates, work out or juice – a museum with artifacts from the town’s spa history and, of course, the famous mineral baths.

“The history of the mineral waters will be brought back to life at this spot,” he said.

The crown atop the new Baker will be it’s newly-renovated ballroom, known as the Cloud Room, and an outdoor patio complete with a restaurant, bar, garden and, in Patton’s words, “a tremendous view.” Patton said the Cloud Room will have the capability to host a 200-person event; perfect for the estimated 100 wedding-related events and 50 group business events the hotel is expected to host each year.

With such an extravagant vision, one might think that this project is still far from being fully realized. But Patton said not so. He said the project team is optimistic that the renovation could begin as early as the later half of this year.

This means, after the 2-and-a-half to three years necessary for cleanup and construction, the Baker Hotel of the future could open its doors as soon as 2017. Upon hearing this news, those in attendance at the luncheon reacted with thunderous applause.

“Despite the complexity (of the financing), it’s come together,” Patton said. “So, it’s a very exciting time. “This is a community project. This isn’t a project of Hunter Chase Capital Partners. This isn’t a project of the Baker Hotel Development Team. It’s just a group of people with the passion to see this hotel development done and have worked diligently for the past six years, for free, to make this thing happen.

"We’ve been doing this because we want to see it done. We know what the impact of that hotel will be for this community. And we’ve been doing this, through all the hurdles, all the challenges and all the nay-sayers, because we believe in this community. We believe in all of you and we believe in that hotel. We’re excited to be able to be a part of this project and this community.”