For nearly a century, the seven-story Denison Hotel has stood over the skyline of downtown Denison and been the first sight for many entering the city. While its heyday in bringing in names like Harry Houdini, Roy Rogers and Sam Rayburn have long since passed, officials with the Denison Development Foundation hope to bring new life to the old hotel.

(Editor's note: This article has been updated to include information about a possible timeline.)

For nearly a century, the seven-story Denison Hotel has stood over the skyline of downtown Denison and been the first sight for many entering the city. While its heyday in bringing in names like Harry Houdini, Roy Rogers and Sam Rayburn have long since passed, officials with the Denison Development Foundation hope to bring new life to the old hotel.

In a meeting last week, the Denison Development Alliance discussed future development and rehabilitation for the hotel. DDA President Tony Kaai said the foundation has the building under a $500,000 contract for the next six months.

“We are going through the process of attracting someone who can market it as a market-rate apartment or hotel,” Kaai said. Once a developer is selected, it may take up to two years for the project to be completed, he added.

Multi-family residences

Since putting the building under contract, Kaai said the DDA has been in contact with about 15 developers who market and restore vintage hotels. Of these, five have already visited the site with another three scheduled to tour it soon, Kaai said. Kaai estimated the cost of restoring the building at between $7 million and $10 million.

“We as a community won't be paying anything to save it,” Kaai said. “It will all be funded through a private entity.”

Current plans call for the building to be redeveloped into a market-rate apartment building on its upper six floors with the 18,000-square-foot ground floor used for retail and restaurant space, Kaai said. The DDA president said the innate features of the hotel, including its ballroom, make the space a unique, marketable place in downtown Denison.

In order to achieve this goal, Kaai said the building would require extensive work on all but the ground floors. As many of the rooms are only 200 square feet, the floors would need to be completely gutted and rebuilt to meet modern needs. Kaai estimated the building could house about 30 apartments.

“There are some amount of people who truly treasure having a local historical location to rent,” he said.

In addition to the need for space, Kaai said the building would also require extensive utility work, including modern plumbing and wiring to bring it up to code.

Code compliance

In early 2016, officials with the city of Denison began work with property owner Don Bennett to bring the hotel into compliance with city health and safety codes and minimum property standards. Development Services Director Gabe Reaume said this ranged from trim and paint that needed to be repaired to exterior windows that were broken.

Other issues included brick at the top of the structure that was loose and beginning to fall. Following a walk through of the building, city staff also noticed interior issues including storage rooms filled with mattresses that posed a fire hazard. These issues have since been resolved, Reaume noted.

Following these discussions with the city, Bennett started exploring other options for the hotel and the possibility of selling it for development, Reaume said. Calls to Bennett on Wednesday were not immediately returned.

“I think he realized the building needed more attention both in work and monetarily than he was willing to give,” Reaume said.

Boutique hotel

As an alternative to market-rate apartments, Kaai said the Hotel Denison could be marketed as a boutique hotel. Kaai compared this to similar developments in downtown McKinney.

“It is all going to hinge on the expertise of the developer and what kind of property they want to manage,” he said.

Given the cost of the restoration, Kaai said developers will likely need to make use of federal and state tax-credit incentive programs aimed at promoting the development and restoration of historic buildings.

The Texas Historical Commission website outlines programs that help incentivize these redevelopments, including one that offers up to 20 percent of rehabilitation costs in tax credits. In order to be eligible, the building must be on the National Register of Historic Places, contributing to a historic district, or be eligible for the National Register.

As a third option, Kaai said the building could be used as a tax-credit housing development aimed at providing residences for low-to-moderate income families. These developments typically make use of federal tax-credit programs aimed at providing incentives for the development of low-cost housing options.

Kaai said one of the five developers who have visited the hotel works in these developments. However, Kaai said officials wish to first pursue market-rate developments with that left as a secondary option. Additionally, the city of Denison started work on a similar development, Parkdale Villas, along Morton Street in late 2016.

“From an economic standpoint, you want higher income individuals to take that space as it boosts the local economy,” he said.

History

The Hotel Denison first opened its doors at the corner of Chestnut and Burnett in October 1924 as the Simpson Hotel. This followed a fire in 1920 that destroyed the original Hotel Denison.

In the Oct. 14, 1924 edition of the Denison Herald, famous illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini was quoted as saying “nowhere in my travels have I found a hotel any better equipped and with better accommodations” about the Hotel Denison.

The hotel continued to offer daily rates until 1986, when it shifted to monthly rental rates.