It’s been a fixture on the Osceola square since the late 1800’s. From elegant hotel to community gathering place and host of a number of local businesses, the larger-than-life building that dominates the southwest corner of Osceola’s city square is starting to see new life – life that’s focused on the future of the community.
“This building has housed many of our city’s most interesting businesses, “said Ty Wheeler, Osceola City Administrator. “We’re excited to see the new owner focusing on bring it back to its original grandeur.”
In the late Fall of 2022, Ty Wheeler and Osceola Chamber Main Street Executive Director, Ashleigh Eckles received a call they presumed they’d heard before. Someone from out of state wanted to get more information on the old hotel. While the property had been vacant and on the market for a number of years, past calls usually ended with the same conclusion: It was just going to be too challenging to rehab the building. But that’s where this call changed things. Evon Sallee, a Hawaii transplant via Oklahoma and Las Vegas, Nevada wanted a building that was exactly that, a challenge.
“Evon’s initial call made us feel like the building was already breathing new life,” said Osceola’s Mayor Thomas Kedley. “Her excitement for and determination to bring the hotel back was infectious.”
Within a few short weeks, the purchase price was agreed upon and the hotel was Sallee’s.
Evon and her husband’s journey to Osceola was full of focus and determination, to say the least. After decades of renovating residential properties in Oklahoma, Nevada, and Hawaii, the decision to delve into the heartland, as well as the hospitality sector, was not a foregone conclusion. But her dream of renovating and developing a hotel and hospitality property continued to push her down that road.
“Hotel Osceola was one of more than two-dozen spots I was looking at,” said Sallee. “The big hook for me was more than the structure and its enormous potential. It was the community I really connected with.”
Upon purchase, Evon and her husband Brien quickly brought in architects and contractors to evaluate what it would take to bring the building back to life. Not only had the massive structure been empty and unmanaged for years, but disrepair and ageing had taken its toll on the once beautiful architecture. Floors that were jacked to compensate for decades old structural additions had begun to cause buckling. Paint and finishing had degraded to peeling holes that peppered the walls and ceilings. And, if the neglect hadn’t caused enough concerns, the aging roof had been leaking for more than a few years, damaging the upper floors as well as potentially jeopardizing the structural integrity of some walls and roof sections.
“All fixable!” said Sallee. “That’s where it all starts. We evaluate and build our strategies to stabilize, update, renovate, and maximize the hotel’s beauty that’s been lost over time. This building belongs to the community of Osceola, and it’s my duty… honor to bring it back.”
Touring the shell that once housed the beautiful Howe’s Hotel, Hotel Garner, Hotel Quilt Patch, and a bevy of bars, restaurants and shops, Sallee point out where she saw the biggest potential for immediate impact.
Her plans consist of a three-phase approach to the renovations. As engineers and contractors move forward to determine the impact of the floor jacking and leaking roof, the first phase will focus on the ground floor. There, businesses had recently been active and getting a few new community “hot spots” should create some interest and additional traffic for the square.
“A fun ice-cream shop and an Italian restaurant were some of our first ideas,” she said. “I’d love to see something that really compliments the businesses already on the square,” she continued, pointing through the windows toward Mayberry’s and The Iron Horse. “I can see the entire square with people walking from shop to shop, spending the whole day just being together. Ultimately, though, we’re open to what the community needs most.”
Her current target date for the first phase of the renovations is late 2023 with the second and third phases following closely behind.
The second phase of the plan includes rebuilding and renovating the second floor rooms, making them available for guests and helping increase travel and tourism in the area. The final, third phase, will be the upper floor reconstruction, renovations, and buildouts. Much of those details remain to be defined until the roof is fixed and damage assessed.
“This is more than we could have asked for,” said Ashleigh Eckles, OCMS Executive Director. “Evon’s vision aligns with our Chamber Main Street directives and we’re thrilled to have her on our team.”
So, if you see some new action on the corner of Jefferson and Fillmore, you’d be well served to stop by and meet your newest business neighbor. Evon and her team will be hard at work, bringing the old hotel back to life one brick and one paint stroke at a time.