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City Council gets Liberty St. hotel update

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Tom Christeson, right, updated Warren City Council on the proposed Wendelboe Hotel project on Liberty St. during Monday night’s council meeting.

Construction is mere months away on a project aimed to transform Liberty St. in downtown Warren.

Action to award additional funds to the project was tabled Monday due to delays with another hotel proposal.

The Liberty St. project started as a Wendelboe Hotel in the former Watt office building.

“That’s still the main focus,” Tom Christeson, the project’s developer, told Warren City Council during Monday night’s meeting.

But his firm – Dewboi Properties – acquired several more buildings in the area – the Brick House, Jack’s Tap House, Masonic building, former Blue Ribbon Rental building as well as the old flower shop building.

“We look to do improvements from one end to the other,” Christeson said, which will “make a big difference.”

He told council the upper floors will be converted to additional hotel space as well as apartments with the first floor of each building remaining commercial.

“That deal is done and paid for,” he said. “(We are) starting to work on drawings to incorporate those in the other project,” estimating that 65 to 70 percent of the soft-cost work is completed.

“(We are) ready to go to bid on Wendelboe,” he said.

Christeson also told council that Jack’s Tap House will remain open.“We will keep a restaurant there,” he said. “(We have) somebody ready to operate a restaurant if something happens to the current owner.”

The targeted date for completion of the hotel is currently May 2023.

Councilman John Wortman asked how confident Christeson is that the date will hold.

“It’s tight,” he said. “We’re still on target” though he admitted he wouldn’t be surprised if the date moves. He explained, though, that he hasn’t had supply chain problems on other projects.

“We’re probably one month away from having complete drawings,” he added, suggesting that construction could commence in two to three months.

“(I’m) excited about the continued investment in the City of Warren,” Mayor Dave Wortman said.

“It’s exciting,” Christeson said, calling that stretch the “eyesore of that street…. It’s a beautiful street.

“Now we can have the capability to do it all.”

Freenock said she was recommending an additional $400,000 in state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds to the project.

That move was tied up to a series of RACP changes needed to comply with changes in state processes.

Wortman said he would be uncomfortable awarding additional funding to a riverfront hotel proposal from Ruzhdi Bakalli without a similar presentation to what council heard from Christeson.

Freenock said the solicitor’s opinion would be needed.

“I think he’s (Bakalli) in breach of that agreement,” she said, as the business plan for the hotel was to be submitted by now. “(We) gave him a little bit of time.”

She stressed that she wants to see Christeson “be able to go and move ahead” but that action could not be taken “unless we formally terminate Bakalli’s subgrantee” agreement.

Freenock added that Bakalli has asked Congressman Glenn Thompson for a $2 million earmark as matching funds.

Wortman asked if he was supposed to get private financing this past year.

“Yes,” Freenock said.

Council ultimately agreed to table the action to a special meeting early next month.

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