Hotel to open in downtown Stillwater
By MARY DIVINE
Jun. 18, 2018
STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) — When it came time for developer Corey Burstad to find a partner for his $13.5 million hotel project in downtown Stillwater, he knew a standard chain wouldn't cut it.
The space — the former Joseph Wolf Brewery block on South Main Street — was too historic and too unusual, he said.
"I didn't want to be controlled by anyone, as to what needs to happen to this property, because there is no way I could have ever followed their rules," Burstad said during a recent tour of the new hotel. "I just felt like I needed to bring on an operator who understood."
Burstad, chief manager at Elevage Development Group, interviewed several firms in the Midwest before turning to Provenance Hotels, based in Portland, Oregon. The firm's portfolio includes boutique hotels in Seattle, Portland, Nashville and New Orleans.
Provenance officials toured the site "in a freezing rain on a cold spring day," Burstad said. "It was terrible weather, and I thought to myself, there is no way they are going to like this property. We had water running through the roof. But he was, like, 'I get it. I see what you're doing.' "
What Burstad was doing was taking four separate buildings — built at different times and on seven levels — and cobbling them together to create a 30,000-square-foot hotel that includes a gourmet restaurant, craft cocktail bar and coffee shop.
The 40-room, three-story boutique hotel, called Lora, opens June 18, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
The project is already garnering national attention. Architectural Digest included Lora in a list of the 15 best-designed hotels opening this summer, along with hotels in the United Arab Emirates, Germany and the Maldives.
The magazine noted that Lora "resides in a former brewery built in 1886 . and retains much of the features of a brewery, including caves, stone walls and a carriage passageway transformed into airy, livable spaces."
Designers with Minneapolis-based ESG worked to maintain as much of the original character of the buildings as possible by keeping the original trusses and leaving brick and limestone walls exposed, said Bridget Mugan, an interior designer with ESG.
The rooms feature a color palette of blues and gray designed to pay homage to Stillwater's German and Scandinavian settlers, she said.
The name "Lora" is short for Lorelei, the mythical river nymph who dressed in white, wore a wreath of stars in her hair and sang a song so alluring that no one could resist its pull.
"She was the river spirit," Burstad said. "We thought it was fitting with all the history behind it. We just shortened it to Lora because it's easier to say and remember. It's more approachable."
The rooms include many whimsical nods to fables and folklore, including coat hooks in the shapes of hares, jackalopes and other animals (some of them not mythical). A few chosen room doors are painted red "like the eye of a loon," Mugan said.
Other features: valet parking, down comforters, Mascioni linens, eco-friendly bath products, complimentary Wi-Fi and an honor bar stocked with locally made products. Pets are welcome, and hotel staff will provide an Eco Nap pet bed, bowls and a treat upon check-in.
Provenance usually builds 120- to 150-room hotels, but "40 rooms on Main Street is the perfect size for Stillwater," said Kate Buska, the firm's vice president of brand development and communications.
"When we're looking at new projects, we really look at what the cities are like — if they have a creative culture and a sense of place that we can incorporate into the spirit of the hotel," she said. "Certainly we specialize in historic buildings and independent-lifestyle properties that connect with the heritage of the place and the building, so naturally Stillwater was intriguing to us. This site is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get to work with."
Lora is a "game changer" for the hotel scene in Stillwater, said Mayor Ted Kozlowski.
"To have a hotel of that caliber in Stillwater allows for a whole new type of visitor to come to Stillwater," Kozlowski said. "Before, if there was a rock star or celebrity, they wouldn't stay in town, right? They didn't have that option. . We didn't have the really swanky hotel that you find in the Cities. We've got that now."
Burstad gets the credit for sticking with the project despite many setbacks.
"It was like gluing four buildings together," Kozlowski said. "These were buildings, built at different times, that were kind of glued and duct-taped together that had to become one hotel structure. It was in a lot worse shape than I think any of us realized. It was crumbling and was structurally unsound."
The Stillwater City Council approved $1.15 million in tax-increment financing for the project in June 2014. The TIF money was key to saving the buildings, said community development director Bill Turnblad.
"It's an important site, and it occupies a key location downtown," Turnblad said. "It's the southern gateway to the city, so it's a prominent location, and you don't want it run down."
Saving the historic buildings required a major overhaul. Installing the elevator, for example, required crews to dig into bedrock.
"We basically held the structure up and ripped every building out from the top to the bottom and then rebuilt up from the inside, so you basically have a new building in every building," said Christopher Zeman, vice president of Zeman Construction. He said all the timbers pulled out of the buildings were repurposed.
Among the main challenges: a stream that ran underneath, which had to be channeled to a storm sewer; stone walls with moisture issues; and a compromised roof.
While working on the project, Zeman crews discovered extensive water damage inside a first-floor wall that had eroded an entire foundation and the wall that was coming off the Main Street stairs.
"The superintendent called me and said, 'You need to come and see this. There is no wall,' " Zeman said. "And sure enough, you were looking at the public stairway through the wall — it was just dirt."
The stairs were closed for four months while workers replaced the wall and rebuilt the stairs.
Then there was a fire. On Feb. 27, a construction worker who was finishing the roof caused a fire on the corner of the building. The fire was extinguished and the damage repaired.
The hotel's restaurant will be called Feller and will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Sam Collins, executive chef and culinary director of Elevage, will be the chef. A native of Minnesota, Collins trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis and has worked at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida, and as sous chef at Murray's in Minneapolis.
Collins has created a "hunter- and gatherer-inspired menu" that will feature dishes from local purveyors. "The menu is my take on what the founders of Stillwater would have eaten, mixed with a bit of my own family traditions and recipes," Collins said. "Everything will be local and fresh and should feel familiar to Midwest diners."
Feller seats approximately 100, with an additional 40-person semi-private dining room and a 30-seat outdoor patio.
The hotel bar, the Long Goodbye, will serve craft cocktails, local beers and fine wine, Burstad said. "It's named for the region's time-honored tradition of lengthy farewells," he said.
The hotel's coffee shop, called MADE, is located right next to the Main Street steps and will feature wood-roasted coffee, homemade pastries and fresh-pressed juices "for people who run the stairs," he said.
Kozlowski said he expects the hotel to be booked solid during busy times of year.
"I think it's going to do phenomenal," he said. "The hotel itself is a destination, and we've never really had a destination hotel in Stillwater."
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com