The board overseeing Butte’s Uptown taxing district approved a $412,000 loan Tuesday to help a group led by a Montana Tech professor buy the historic Finlen Hotel and complex.
Members of the Urban Revitalization Agency Board liked plans presented by J.J. Adams, who said he wanted to keep operating the hotel, motel and other properties pretty much “as is,” but make some modest improvements.
They could include some eventual remodeling of hotel rooms and turning two vacant stories in one building into residential units, Adams said.
Adams said the complex has been cared for so well, it doesn't need a lot of new investment.
But, he said, “There is a little bit of a disconnect between what people expect and what they experience,” and he and a few others in a newly formed group called Finlen Properties LLC want to bridge that.
As an example, Adams said one possible new billboard for the Finlen might say, “Historic buildings, new beds.”
The URA loan was a key part of a financing package to acquire the hotel and associated properties, but it is not the last hurdle in closing the deal, Adams said.
It could take three months just to get a liquor license transferred, he said, and there were other details to work out.
The group wants to purchase the entire hotel complex, which includes the Finlen Hotel and Finlen Motor Inn, 39 apartments, 12 commercial spaces, ballrooms, a heated parking garage, and the Cavalier Lounge. Most of the apartments and commercial spaces have occupants.
The complex owned by the Taras family has been advertised on a commercial real estate site with a list price of $3.6 million and an “investor packet available to qualified buyers.”
URA board members said Adams’ presentation, which was done in executive session because it involved a loan, was one of the best they had ever seen and the loan made sense.
The URA oversees a tax-increment financing (TIF) district that captures property tax dollars from new developments in much of Uptown so they can be re-invested in the area. The board does that through grants and loans to projects it deems worthy.
This was worthy, board members said, with one — Bob Brown — saying it was the type of project the URA was created for in the first place.
“It’s a risk, but a very rational risk,” Brown said. “We are betting on J.J. and his team.”
Member Bob Worley said the Finlen is important to Uptown and he is pleased that Adams and his partners want to maintain it and not “just roll it over.”
“That appeals to me and I think it will appeal to the folks of Butte as well,” he said.
Board Chairman Dale Mahugh echoed that.
“We want to see it continue in its glory and be improved,” he said.
The loan is for up to $400,000 plus $12,000 to cover various closing costs and fees with a fixed interest rate of 3 percent for 25 years.
Adams, 43, moved from Missoula to Butte with his wife, Shanna, and their two kids in August 2016. He is an assistant business professor at Montana Tech.
He developed five businesses between 1996 and 2007, the year he earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Montana. He was the economic development adviser to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee from 2006 to 2011 and the Senate’s national economic director from 2011 to 2014.
The Finlen Hotel, inspired by the Astor Hotel in New York City, opened in Uptown Butte on New Year’s Day in 1924 as one of the most elegant hotels between Minneapolis and Seattle.
Its tallest tower was completed in 1924 and work began on the second one in 1927. The stock market crash of 1929 brought that to a halt, which is why one tower is shorter to this day.