Unknown future for old hotel

Kristyn Soltis

In 1967, Kent businessman Yale Berman purchased a lease for the

Kent-Ellis Hotel with plans to vastly change the building and bring

equally vast changes to downtown.

“It is about time the merchants, landlords and people of Kent wake up

and do something so they can be proud of downtown,” Berman said in a

1967 article.

Forty-three years later, Berman’s dreams of a revitalized

downtown are happening. But the Kent Hotel, with its boarded

windows and doors, has become nothing more than an eyesore on the

corner of Depeyster and Main streets.

“Whether from lack of commitment, resources, or vision, the ‘old hotel’

continues to be a non-productive eyesore in our historic downtown,”

said directors from Main Street Kent in a prepared statement. Because of ongoing litigation, the directors could not comment further.

“I think the city needs to do something about it,” said Angie

Persello, an employee at Main Street Snack Shoppe. “They’re working so

hard to make downtown such a nice place, and that old building is

ruining everything.”

A vibrant start

The old hotel wasn’t always an eyesore. The 50-room Franklin

Hotel, the first of many names for the building, opened its doors

Sept. 8, 1920. Despite a short downfall in the midst of the Great

Depression, the hotel established itself as one of the best small-town

hotels in Ohio. It became the center of social activity for members of

the Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and Kent Area Chamber of

Commerce. The building housed a beauty shop, barbershop, coffee

shop, auto club, dining room and ball room. It was also the Chamber of Commerce headquarters, and the first bar in the area following the repeal of prohibition. The old hotel seemed to thrive.

A troubled past

The building traded hands four times before controversy struck in the

1970s. Owner Joseph Bujack converted the hotel into student housing,

resulting in students flocking to the inexpensive dormitory because of

its prime location near downtown and the campus. But the building began to deteriorate, and the interior began to suffer minor damages, faulty wiring and plumbing difficulties.

The upper three floors were deemed unfit for human habitation in 1979 and so began the legal tug-of-war that continues to this day.

Bujack was ordered to restore the building to government codes, but

when he hadn’t fulfilled the order of the Portage County Court

of Common Pleas after three years, he was held in contempt and imposed

a $1,000-per-day fine until a specified date or until the building is razed.

To date, the fines have reached about $428,000, which is now in the

hands of current Kent Hotel owner Gregory Vilk. He also has the

responsibility to bring the building up to code.

The road to restoration

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said private developers have talked

about restoring the building, including a restaurant on the ground

floor and office space or condominiums on the upper floors.

“But there’s also been talk to tearing the building down and building

something new in its place,” Ruller said, in an email. “It’s hard to

say which option is preferable until a structural engineer can do a

complete building assessment.”

The last inspection of the Kent Hotel was June 11 by Ted Webster of

TE&D, LLC. During the walk through, Webster found Vilk had made

significant steps toward improving water damage, corrosion and deterioration.

The inspection also found the former coal bin under the sidewalk at the southeast corner of the building questionable as far as its capacity to carry a heavy vehicle.

Vilk has said in the past he would like to move on and wash his hands

of the situation, which is why the building is currently for sale.

Ruller said the goal is for the city or a developer to purchase the hotel for a reasonable price.

“We’ve been contacted by interested buyers in the past, but they have

always indicated that the owner’s asking price was too high for them

to make their numbers work,” Ruller said.

The owner is behind on his payments, so Ruller said he hopes he would accept a lower price.

Although there have been interested buyers, the city is still working through mediation with Vilk to see if there’s any chance of getting the building back in use.

“It’s hard to say whether the mediation will produce an amicable

solution, but we remain optimistic.”

Contact Kristyn Soltis at [email protected].