The road that led to the successful restoration and revitalization of the former Hotel Easton was a long one, with many bumps along the way.
At the time Easton Hotel Restoration acquired the building in August 2000, the idea of restoring it to use as a hotel had already taken form. A feasibility study by HVS, Inc. showed that such a project could be a success although more parking space would be needed to support a critical mass of units. As it turned out, anticipated government funding to add parking spaces did not materialize despite many indications that it would. The clock was ticking and the property was still in a state of ruin.
An alternate plan was needed– and finally formulated in 2004: the building would be renovated as a high end condominium instead. A condominium would only require relatively small number of parking spaces and would provide a taxable base of owners in the downtown. EHR’s principal purpose had never been to make money– its mission was to revitalize the building and the surrounding community. A condominium complex with dozens of families in it would be a huge improvement over a vacant, deteriorating ruin. Restoration work began that year.
William Dohe, an architect devoted to sustainability, was hired to oversee the project. Dohe, who has served on the City’s Historic District Commission and chaired its Environmental Advisory Council, paid great attention to preserving the building’s historic features and making it as environmentally friendly as possible. The exterior brick and limestone façades were kept intact and the original entrance with its staircase, the lobby and the Gold Room were all preserved. Inside, thirty spacious residential suites replaced the 140 smaller units in the original building.
The restored building opened under a condominium regime in June 2006 and the units went on sale. The cost of the renovation had been enormous —over $13 million dollars— but the results were stunning. The story was not over yet, however. The day the units went on sale, the scenic Delaware River, which looked so lovely from the balconies of the building, overflowed its banks and flooded the lower floor. Apart from the flooding, a nationwide economic downturn slowed sales to a standstill. Adding to the woes, the costs of maintaining the spacious common areas in the building proved far higher than anticipated. Determined to maintain the structure as an asset to the City, EHR searched again for another strategy.
Every possible option was considered. Finally, the suggestion was made that EHR convert the unsold condominium units to use as a hotel. Although the restored building did not include enough units to make such a project profitable, projections showed that there might be sufficient units to make it self-sustaining. EHR’s mission continued to be saving the building and revitalizing the city around it. A hotel would unquestionably make a positive contribution to those ends—and if the hotel could help the building meet ends so that it was self-sustaining, EHR’s goals would be met.
The hotel conversion began in May 2008 with the full support of the Condominium Association. Everyone agreed this was the only hope for the building at that point. Easton Hotel Restoration’s nonprofit parent invested an additional half million dollars to buy furnishings, install a communications system, set up security cameras, and generally ready the building for its new role. Five months later, the Grand Eastonian Suites Hotel was ready for its opening.