Fraction of sales tax could help restore Baker Hotel, advocates say

Almost every day, Laura Marsh sees the curiosity seekers stroll around the dilapidated Baker Hotel.

Marsh, who owns the Jitter Beans Roasting Company and Down Town Video & Laser with her husband, Bryan, has visitors walk in seeking answers about the old hotel across the street.

“You get people who come in here asking what is it,” Marsh said. “They want to know the history and what it is all about.”

Since the city placed a referendum on the May 10 ballot to dedicate an eighth of a cent of its sales tax to the renovation of the Baker Hotel, the couple has become a two-person cheering section for the project. Early voting starts on April 28.

They’re selling “I Helped Save The Baker Hotel” T-shirts and have blueprints of the planned renovation displayed in their store.

“People are coming in and we’re telling them about the project,” Laura Marsh said. “We’re encouraging everybody to vote that we can. We’re even talking to young voters and trying to convince them that this is about their future and the future of this city.”

Laird Fairchild of Southlake-based Hunter Chase Capital Partners has been working with a team of developers for six years to restore the hotel. He views the election as the last piece of the puzzle to the complicated restoration project.

“What we are really trying to prove is this community is 100 percent behind this project,’ Fairchild said. “You know a lot of our capital is based on community impact. If you get a strong showing with a referendum like this, it tells you a lot about its impact on the community.”

If all of the pieces fall into place, Fairchild said the project could begin later this year or early in 2015.

The developers say all but $4 million of the $56 million budget has been identified. The city of Mineral Wells is being asked to use a portion of its 4B economic development sales tax to cover the rest.

Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton said one of the challenges has been convincing voters that they won’t see a new tax if they vote in favor of the project. Instead, it would reallocate a portion of the existing sales tax.

“If it passes, my feeling is it will be the fuse for getting all of the funding in place,” said Mineral Wells Mayor Mike Allen. “I think it's more than symbolic. It will be a breath of life that will drive the community forward.”

With a population of 16,788, Mineral Wells has faced its share of obstacles since the Baker closed in 1972 and Fort Wolters, where helicopter pilots trained during the Vietnam War, was deactivated in 1973.

Its population has been largely stagnant and the Baker has been the subject of countless redevelopment rumors.

In the buildup to the election, a Save the Baker Facebook page has been created and Vote for the Baker signs have popped up all over the town.

While there is no organized opposition, Allen is worried that some might vote against it simply because they don’t understand the project. And Laura Marsh said some residents have voiced opposition who have walked into the store.

“There are some people who come in here and say they’re against it but they can’t tell me why,” she said. “Some like the Baker the way it is and others think it will never happen but most people who come in here can’t wait to see it happen.”

Because the hotel, which first opened in 1929, has been closed for nearly half of its existence, Fairchild said he can understand the skepticism.

“I don’t fault any of the doubters,” Fairchild said. “If they have any doubts, I’ll see them at the grand opening.”

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