Butte-Silver Bow is steering about $46,000 — most of it money from federal and state grants — toward a preliminary report and market study of possible enhancements and development of the historic Finlen Hotel in Butte.
“It could be everything from as simple as configuration of rooms to lighting to electrical and plumbing needs,” said Karen Byrnes, the county’s director of Community Development. “There could also be some design guides. It could be looking at the consistency of designs in rooms.”
The county has secured similar grants for other largely private ventures that would enhance economic development in Butte, Byrnes said, including efforts by Headframe Spirits to turn the Kelley Mine yard into a warehouse and distillery.
The Taras family, which owned the Finlen Hotel and complex for 40 years, sold it to Montana Tech professor J.J. Adams and three other partners in a deal announced in January.
A sales price was not disclosed, but the complex had been advertised on a commercial real estate site with a list price of $3.6 million. The Adams group got a $412,000 loan from Butte’s Uptown taxing district in October to help make the purchase.
The complex 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.
Adams told county officials last year that he wanted to keep operating the hotel, motel, and other properties while making some modest improvements. Those could include some eventual remodeling of hotel rooms and turning two vacant stories in one building into residential units, he said then.
Adams said this week that his group used $50,000 on a feasibility study for the complex, and the new state grants will help flesh out “what needs to be done” for taking the property to another level.
The new grants include $30,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds and $11,000 from the state Department of Commerce’s Montana Main Street Program. The county kicked in $5,000 in matching funds.
“If everything goes as well as it can, then we can have a certain list of concepts in mind of what we would want to do,” he said. “The idea is to do both an expansion and renovation of the hotel business.”
Adams said the Montana Department of Tourism did a recent “branding study” of important niche markets of people who would visit the state if given more reasons to do so.
One of them is history buffs, Adams said, and Butte — of course — is rich in history, and Uptown is part of one of the largest historical districts in the nation. Baltimore is among places that have seized on that market, he said.
The possible “expansions” that could be identified from the grant funding are not from new structures built onto the existing ones but rather more hotel rooms from space previously used for storage, offices, and apartments, Adams said.
Specific possibilities for improvements could include modernizations and perhaps more railings for safety and new bedding, fixtures, lighting, and art. Others might include a restaurant and conference space.
The effort, he said, is to “tell us what needs to be done” to make the Finlen complex a true “community center of culture, tourism, and economic activity.”
The county has just started soliciting bids from architectural and engineering firms to do the analysis. It’s possible everything could be completed in about six months, Byrnes said.