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$75 million makeover planned for resort hotel

May 13, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. -- About 70 Harpers Ferry residents got their first look Wednesday at a proposed $75 million remake of the century-old Hilltop House resort hotel -- a makeover that will see the demolition of the old structure and replacement with a 179-room high-end luxury property.

The renovation will require the Town of Harpers Ferry to rezone more than a block of residential property to commercial, including seven previously private properties now owned by SWaN Investors of Leesburg, Va.

"When they get through, they'll own about 10 percent of the town," Harpers Ferry Mayor Jim Addy said.

Fred Schaufeld, a principal in the investment firm, hired Gemstone & Resort LLC to run the hotel once it is built, possibly as soon as 2014. Much depends on the ability of the investors to borrow construction money in the current economy, he said.

A historic preservation architect who toured the existing Hilltop House building -- the original of which was built in 1888, followed by replacement buildings that fell to major fires in 1912 and 1919 -- said its condition is so bad that it could not be saved.

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When the presenters at Wednesday's public meeting at the National Park Service's Mather Training Center held up a drawing of what the new hotel would look like, a round of applause filled the room.

The project will include the renovation of six "armory" houses, company-owned homes built in the mid-19th century for people who worked in the government's armory in Harpers Ferry. Some will be used as guest housing and some as offices for the hotel complex.

Mike Miller, spokesman for the investment group, said the project would generate more than $7 million for the local economy in its second year. More than 72,000 overnight visitors are expected to stay in hotel's rooms every year.

The hotel is expected to employ more than 220 people.

Schaufeld said his company has spent more than $10 million buying the property and trying to get the project off the ground.

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