Peaking the interest of a major hotel management company like General Hotels and actually getting them to invest in a community are two things usually separated by a chasm of uncertainty.
For Jim Dora, Jr., president and CEO of General Hotels, that chasm was bridged by the hospitality of a city employee when he visited the city incognito to just check things out. Dora had been invited down to Jasper by Jane Hendrickson, principal of Boxer Girl LLC the developer of the River Centre, and intrigued, he agreed.
While he was at the Jasper Train Depot, he ran into Al Kiefer. Kiefer handles the city hall maintenance.
“I was just a guy down here in a pair of jeans poking around a little bit,” Dora told the crowd gathered for the groundbreaking on the new Fairfield Inn & Suites. “I happen to love mechanical equipment. I love trains. Started to poke around the train depot and ran into him (Kiefer) and he treated me like I was a family member…I thought, this is a great feel for a town. I like this.”
Kiefer took Dora on a tour of the depot and the train cars. His hospitality and openness, as well as Hendrickson’s vision for the River Centre, drew Dora into the conversation to become a partner in the development announced in late 2015.
Soon after, as plans were being revealed for the site, General Hotels announced their $8 million investment in a new hotel next to the Patoka River across from the City Mill. During Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Dora explained the hotel was a necessary addition to the city and area to continue to attract visitors.
“We’ve got a great brand here that is going to complement the other hotels in the area,” Dora said. “We may be competitors, we are really more of a team. It’s going to take several hotels to sell the city and bring in additional businesses. We really want to become a part of the community and be a team player.”
The 84-room hotel will cater to business travelers with its spacious suites with separate work areas. Additional hotel amenities will include free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour business center, a small meeting room, hot breakfast, coffee and tea service, a swimming pool, a whirlpool, a fitness room and 24-hour accessibility to snacks, drinks, toiletries and other items.
The new hotel will sit on the where the Jasper Cabinet kiln building was originally located. Construction will be underway soon and the hotel is scheduled to open in summer 2018.
The new hotel will be part of the River Centre, a multi-use development featuring 75 market rate apartments and commercial space for several businesses, will be located on the north side of the Patoka River on the old Jasper Cabinet property at Jackson and Second streets. It will include several improvements to the Patoka River area adding aesthetic features in clear view of the city’s downtown district.
The River Centre is set to be under construction in 2018 and open in 2019. Krempp Construction is working on the project.
For one group, Redevelop Old Jasper Action Coalition (ROJAC), the addition of the River Centre and Cultural Center across the street is the culmination of their aspirations when they formed in 2003. The group was responsible for creating the Riverwalk, City Mill, Train Depot and other improvements in the area.
“This is like a dream come true,” Buehler said. “Undoubtedly, all the stuff that we did influenced this but we couldn’t have done any of this without the backing of the community.”
In expounding upon the more than $200 million of private, public and philanthropical investment in Jasper right now, Mayor Terry Seitz shared a conversation he overheard between board members at a recent Dubois Strong meeting.
“She said, ‘I tell people they will not recognize Jasper in the next three years,’” Seitz said. “They may not recognize our appearance, what they will recognize is what Al brought to this when Mr. Dora came down. Our spirit, our hospitality, our personality.”