Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
One of Denison’s signature landmarks may soon get a facelift under new ownership. The city of Denison announced the Hotel Denison has been purchased for redevelopment by Denison natives Casey Shires and Steve Rumsey with Cross Development.
“As Denisonians we know how important this historic landmark is to our community," the Shires said in a press release. “We want to restore it as something we will all be proud of and make it the anchor to our wonderful downtown district. We are so proud of our hometown and the incredible progress that has been made in making Denison the city of choice for those that are moving to the area.”
City Manager Jud Rex said he believed that the plans for redevelopment of the hotel called for residential uses on the upper floors and commercial uses on the first floor. Calls to Cross Development for comment on the project were not immediately returned Friday.
The redevelopment of the hotel with commercial and residential possibilities will help the city as it looks to cultivate an entertainment district in downtown, Rex said. More concrete plans for the project will be announced in the weeks to come, officials said.
The hotel first opened as the Simpson Hotel in 1924 following the destruction of the original Hotel Denison in a fire. At that time, the hotel featured 118 rooms with a poured concrete construction to make it resistant to fire.
In its heyday, the hotel featured guests ranging from Roy Rogers and Sam Rayburn to famed magician Harry Houdini. The stage magician was quoted in the Denison Herald in 1924 as saying “nowhere in my travels have I found a hotel any better equipped and with better accommodations.”
In 1986, the hotel transitioned from offering daily rates to focusing more on monthly rentals. As of Friday, city officials said the building was vacant and the last residents were relocated a few weeks ago.
Efforts to revitalize the hotel started most recently in 2016 when Denison began working with the hotel owners to bring it up to minimum property standards. From those initial conversations came efforts to find a new investor who could revitalize the 1920s hotel.
Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said he approached 50 developers who specialize in restoring historic properties about the potential redevelopment after hearing that the building would be put up for sale. Of those 50 developers, 12 toured the site before one ultimately put the building under contract.
At the time, city officials said the project would likely see the hotel converted into loft spaces rather than the traditional hotel rooms. Other historic downtown buildings have been outfitted with loft-style apartments on their second floors in recent years.
However, these plans ultimately fell through and the DDA was left looking again for a new developer. Through this second search, Kaai said he was put in touch with Cross Development.
“This feels really good,” Rex said, regarding the news of the project. “At least now we have a clear image of who will be involved and have a clear path.”
Details on the sale of the building were not immediately available Friday afternoon, however the Grayson County Central Appraisal District values the property at $336,423. Kaai said the initial surveys of the building concluded that the restoration project could take anywhere from $6 million to $10 million.
With that cost in mind, Kaai said the DDA primarily pursued developers who had a history of using historic preservation tax credits to fund similar projects. Kaai would not rule out participation by the DDA in helping finance the improvements, but said he was uncertain what role it would have.
“Redeveloping a historic building of this size and scale will take considerable financial resources,” Rex said, speaking for the city. “This will only be possible through incentives from the greater community of Team Denison, who are committed to bring around $1 million to the project. Details remain to be finalized on the incentive package, but Team Denison and its development partners understand the importance of this project and are committed to make it a reality.”
With these changes, Rex said he hopes the hotel will be able to return to one of its original roles as a hub for the community. During its prime years, Rex said the hotel was the place to be in Denison and often served as a place for gatherings, meetings and other social events. Through the renovation process, Rex said he hopes that a portion of the space can still be dedicated for public use.