Centralia close to selling Wilson Hotel

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Only two more steps stand in the way of the sale of Centralia's Wilson Hotel. City councilors approved financial terms of the sale Thursday night, and officials hope to close the deal sometime in February.

Centralia City Manager J.D. Fouts said councilors still had to approve the out-of-town purchaser's business plan and financial report before they approved the final sale.

"This is a pretty exciting opportunity for us," Fouts said.

He and other city officials expressed pleasure with the quick sale, following so close on the heel's of this summer's sale of the Fox Theatre, and were stunned that the interested parties were willing to take on the building despite its state of disrepair.

Councilors have still not released the name of the investors or the price agreed upon for the sale two weeks ago, except to say that they are not local people. The asking price for the building was $350,000.

Centralia has owned the Wilson Hotel, on North Tower Avenue, since 2001. It bought the building at its assessed tax value, which was somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000, said Dave Eatwell, director of downtown economic development.

A tour of the hotel Thursday afternoon showed the extent of repairs the city and new owners will have to make to the old structure. Eatwell estimated that resurrecting the building could cost as much as $1 million.

The new owners, however, will not have to pay all the costs of repairing the place. Centralia recently received a grant for about $96,000 for economic development to make initial repairs to the building, and Fouts said the city plans to go forward with this project.

The Wilson Hotel was constructed in 1914. For decades, it was the home of the Wilson Bar and Grill, Eatwell said. In 1920, the owners added 3,000 square feet to the south side of the building.

This part of the building currently houses a barber shop and a temporary gallery. The Lewis County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Economic Development office and a community policing substation are currently housed in the older part of the Wilson Hotel.

The south side of the building needs structural work. The older section of the building, four floors that were used as an apartment complex until the city purchased it, is a different story.

The lobby, where the Convention and Visitors Bureau is currently located, is the most pristine set of rooms in the building, Eatwell said. It was renovated as a volunteer project by the Girl Scouts in the summer and fall of 2001.

"If we had had to pay for the work they donated, it would probably have cost the city about $30,000," Eatwell said.

He said the hotel lobby was probably one of the main reasons the city was able to so quickly find a buyer for the property.

"When you walk in, it takes your breath away, and prepares you to see the rest of the place," he said.

The "rest of the place" is 41 (originally 55, Eatwell said) rooms suffering severe water damage and the woes of neglect and disrepair. Wires running along the outside of cracked and peeling walls can be seen in many of the rooms. Expensive, original wood doors are cracked and damaged. But water has by far been the old building's most ruthless enemy.

After the city bought the building, Eatwell said, workers had to put $50,000 into a new roof just to keep it from collapsing. Inside the building, on every floor, ceilings are black and falling to the floor in great mildewing chunks.

Eatwell said that when the city bought the building, workers had to evict people still living in two or three apartments.

"We didn't feel the building was clean or safe enough to inhabit," Eatwell said. "The whole place smelled like a diaper pail. We found drug paraphernalia all over the place."

In the summer of 2001, volunteers cleaned out all of the trash, pulled up all the carpets and hauled out all the appliances, including heavy iron steam registers, Eatwell said.

"And in spite of all the abuse the building's taken, it has some beautiful woodwork," he said. "With care, this place could be just as good, or similar to, the Olympic Club."

Dian McClurg covers city government for Centralia and Chehalis, and health issues for The Chronicle. She may be reached at 807-8239, or by e-mail at dmcclurg@chronline.com.

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