Twenty years and counting: Imperial renovations, perhaps, finally coming to a closeWritten by Caitlin Bowling
It’s anybody’s guess when the Imperial Hotel in Canton will open.
The deadline for finishing renovations to the hotel, owned by outgoing Canton Mayor Pat Smathers, has continually been pushed back. The initial opening date in May turned into July, then August, with the latest target now sometime in December.
“There is just very little left to do,” said Smathers, who expects to finish renovating the hotel by the first or second week in December. “It’s just taken time, but it’s an old building.”
The renovations have been progressing in fits and starts during the past decade. Piles of bricks and other tell-tale signs of construction have been a mainstay in the yard of the downtown property for years now.
This time, however, completion really is just around the corner. If Smathers doesn’t create 15 jobs in the renovated hotel by this time next year, he will have to repay a $90,000 state grant for the project from the N.C. Rural Center.
Smathers himself will only create one of the required 15 jobs directly, however. An independent restaurant leasing space from Smathers inside the hotel will create the other 14 jobs required under the grant.
Smathers must repay a portion of the grant for each job not created.
Plans for a restaurant inside the hotel have taken a turn last week, however, with one restaurateur stepping back and another stepping in. Originally, Greg Petty, owner of the Canton Lunch Box, was going to open a restaurant in the Imperial Hotel. He expected to open this summer and even closed his other restaurant to focus his efforts on the new location.
“We closed our Canton Lunch Box in anticipation of getting this place opening on Aug. 1,” Petty said. That’s after previously touting a June opening.
Petty said the prolonged renovations were not the main reason he opted out of the Imperial locale. He said he was still planning to open the restaurant when he was approached by Sid Truesdale, who wanted to buy him out.
Truesdale said he was looking for an opportunity locally.
The goal for opening a restaurant in the hotel is New Year’s Eve, said Truesdale, calling the timeline “pretty aggressive.”
The restaurant, called Sid’s on Main, will offer “a little bit of everything,” such as steak and soups, Truesdale said.
The renovation project was about 80 percent complete in June, according to a progress report submitted to the Rural Center as a requirement of the grant. The main items remaining were painting the interior and installing a sprinkler system, bathroom fixtures, HVAC units and lighting fixtures, according to the report.
Now, the sprinkler system has been installed, as well as the light fixtures. However, workers are still inspecting the hotel’s pipes and finishing several outdoor decks or walkways, among other things.
Smathers purchased the property in 1983 with several others. During the next 15 years or so, he bought out his partners and began renovating the historic building.
The mayor said he did not know “off the top of my head” how much he has spent on the project during the last decade. However, he said the final stages of the project should cost about $180,000.
Smathers, through the Haywood County government, has obtained a two-part grant from the N.C. Rural Center to renovate the Imperial Hotel. The center awarded Smathers a $25,000 pre-development grant for architectural and engineering plans and a $90,000 grant for construction.
Smathers had to match the grant with an equal level of spending. As of Nov. 10, the remaining grant funds totaled about $4,000.
To meet the terms of the grants, the hotel must create 15 new jobs — 14 in the restaurant and one in the hotel — before November 2012 or repay part of the grant.
Canton residents and business owners said the hotel will have a positive impact on the community but are wondering how much longer they will have to wait.
“Anything that brings people downtown will help businesses,” said Julie Spivey, an area resident. “It’s taking longer than anyone expected,” she added.
Charles Rathbone, owner of Sign World WNC, said he would like to see the hotel and restaurant open for the upcoming holiday season.
“There is a lot of anticipation waiting for the opening day,” Rathbone said.