Hundreds of people Thursday celebrated and cheered anyone and everyone who has played a role to bring to fruition the start of construction to restore, renovate and in three years reopen the Baker Hotel.
"Ten minutes ago, we officially purchased the Baker Hotel," project development lead Laird Fairchild announced to open the noon ceremony on the hotel's front steps, bringing a loud cheer from the crowd that spilled out onto East Hubbard Street, where westbound traffic was reduced from three lanes to one.
The property, sitting dormant and decaying the last four decades, was purchased by Baker Hotel Holdings LP from its previous ownership holding company, Times Industrial Partnership, located in Mesa, Ariz. The sale price was not disclosed, but it is said to be well in excess of its appraised market value of $1.028 million.
The Horne family, in Arizona, which has long owned and controlled the property, announced earlier Thursday it was donating $50,000 toward Leadership Mineral Wells Class 24's project to bring back the Crazy Welcome Sign that will span one of the downtown thoroughfares.
Fairchild and his longtime friend and partner, Chad Patton have worked over a decade to pull the pieces and financing together for a project that will cost an estimated $65 million to restore and renovate over the next three years. Once complete, the property will be valued at about $40 million.
"This is a great day for Mineral Wells, and a great day for the fans of the Baker Hotel," Fairchild said.
There will be hundreds of workers on the project over the next 36 months – construction commenced Thursday – and Fairchild promised that, when possible, when hiring and contracting "we will look locally first."
"I want to thank you, this town and its leadership, for making this possible," said Fairchild. "It hasn't sank in what this means, but it's exciting."
Patton extended many thank yous to elected officials and city staff who helped move the project forward. Among those were the two previous Mineral Wells mayors who played large roles in helping make Thursday's ceremony possible.
As mayor, Clarence Holliman worked with state officials to put in place in 2008 a tax-increment finance district overlay district downtown that captures new property tax revenue within that district to help finance new projects and improvements.
An African American, Holliman said when he first came to Mineral Wells the city was still segregated and he was unable to stay in the Baker Hotel.
"When the Baker is open, I want to spend the first night in it," Holliman said. "And I don't want to pay for it," he added, drawing laughs and applause.
Former mayor Mike Allen was also thanked for his work on the project. Allen served 22 years on city council, including his last 10 as mayor. He said he often dealt with people who didn't believe the Baker Hotel would ever be rebuilt and reopened.
"I would just tell them I have faith in this project and that it will happen," said Allen. "Today my faith has been rewarded and the grand regal lady has reawakened."
Lance Howerton stepped down as city manager at the end of December after 25 years in that position. Patton said he and Howerton had weekly phone calls on Friday to discuss the project. Patton said often he didn't have anything positive to tell Howerton, but that Howerton stayed patient and supportive.
Howerton said in 2006, before Fairchild and Patton came forward, the city along with the Mineral Wells Industrial Foundation and Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce funded a market analysis study to try and raise investor interest in the Baker Hotel.
Patton extended thank yous to Gov. Greg Abbott, who implemented an Opportunity Zone encompassing the downtown district, and other areas of Mineral Wells, that he said was a key to helping fund project through tax incentives that are maximized if the property is held for 10 years.
He also thanked the Texas Historical Commission for its help. He said the commission has designated the Baker Hotel project its number one restoration project in the state.
Councilwoman Beth Watson was acknowledged for her efforts in passing the 4B sales tax referendum in 2014 that pledged $4 million in public support toward the project. That fund today stands at about $1.5 million.
Also speaking Thursday was Mineral Wells investor and downtown stakeholder Randy Nix, who in recent months became an investment partner in the Baker Hotel project. That is in addition to the projects and renovations he has already undertaken that has kickstarted downtown's overall redevelopment, including the renovation and restoration of the nearby Crazy Water Hotel through a public benefit corporation group of investors. That project is also underway.
"I am excited, exhilarated," said lifelong Mineral Wells resident Angie Kite after witnessing Thursday's ceremony announcement. "I remember when it was open. Randy (Nix) has done a really god job of getting everything started."
Christine and Ervin Kraemer moved to the area over two years ago from Seattle, Wash. They said they are excited about the changes in Mineral Wells' downtown and Thursday announcement regarding the Baker Hotel and Spa.
"I absolutely loved it," Christine Kraemer said. "We saw it happen to a small town in Washington state, so we knew it could happen."
"For us it's a big deal," said Ervin Kraemer. "We didn't move here for this reason, but we are excited it's happening."
If you were among those who thought renovation of the long-closed, deteriorating and often vandalized Baker Hotel would never happen – one of the project's development leaders was admittedly right there with you at times.
Bill Fortney's insurance agency was among the last businesses left operating on the street level inside the building, years after the hotel was finally shuttered in 1972.
"I think it's time," said Fortney following the ceremony. "I think others tried it before, but it wasn't the right time. I think this is the right time. It is good for Mineral Wells."
Ken Valentine, Patton's father-in-law, and Valentine's sister, Anita Hedley, were among those attendance, and both said they are excited, for Patton, Fairchild and the development team as well as for the city.
"For 12 years, both of them worked very hard every day," Valentine said, referring to Patton and Fairchild. "They never gave up. It's really amazing."
Hedley is visiting Texas from Naples, Fla. She said she has been watching the project effort from afar, and said she was happy she could attend and witness Thursday's ceremony.
"I'm so excited about it," she said.
So is just about everyone else.