Visalia’s old courthouse may become a snazzy hotel
Local developer plans to transform the former courthouse into a 1930s-esque luxury hotel
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – An abandoned building in downtown may became a luxury hotel with an appearance that could have been ripped from the pages of The Great Gatsby.
That’s the vision of Matt Ainley, lead developer of Courthouse Square Ventures, in his proposal to renovate the old courthouse building near the northeast corner of Court and Center streets. Ainley’s development team submitted the winning proposal to transform the building from abandoned government office space to a privately-owned, 28-room boutique hotel. Named “The Darling,” Ainley envisions a project that tastefully restores the classic Art Deco architectural style of the four-story building to pay homage to its 1930s roots.
A pool and bar would cover 1,800 square feet of the rooftop with the other half being dedicated for a bar and lounge. The 28 rooms would be luxury suites between 275 and 500 square feet on the second through fourth floors. In addition to a grand lobby, the ground floor would feature a spa, wine cellar, two meeting rooms as well as 100-seat restaurant and lounge that will be open to the public.
“Historical elegance overlaying modern, sustainable components, that is the core concept of this proposal,” Ainley stated in the proposal.
Under the proposal, the project’s primary focus is to restore the existing façade and Art Deco detail work on the exterior of the building. Inside, the project will remove all non-historical elements that were added following its use as a courthouse, including all cubicles, temporary walls and structures, floating ceilings, and computer wiring. However, the 82-year old building will most likely not be totally restored given its current state. The building’s main entrance and mezzanine-level restrooms do meet current ADA requirements, it contains hazardous materials such as lead-based paint and asbestos and may need structural renovation as it was built with poured-in-place concrete.
“In such cases, we intend to try and incorporate design elements that complement or tastefully blend with the existing, salvageable elements—even recreating original fixtures as necessary,” Ainley wrote.
In order to keep the historical nature of the building in tact, Courthouse Square Ventures plans on soliciting the services of Robert Silman Associates out of Washington, D.C., structural engineers with expertise in historical restoration and adaptation including projects at Carnegie Hall, the DC Court of Appeals, and the Jefferson Memorial. The capital engineers will work with Ainley and his team, which recently developed an office expansion at Ruiz Foods, converting the old Caskey Paper Warehouse into the Planning Mill pub and pizza and Vise Brewing. Big price tags are not an obstacle for Ainley’s investment team, which privately financed the $2 million Caskey Paper project, $1.5 million for another office project and $1.2 million for the Rancho Sierra subdivision.
“Being Visalia natives who have had a fascination with the Project site since childhood, we intend to restore and incorporate as many of the existing historical features as possible.”
Ainley said the hotel will not only have an aesthetic affect but also an economic one. He stated that the hotel’s 28 rooms will alleviate Visalia’s current booking rate of 90%. He also noted that hotels bring money into the area compared to residential or professional uses which recycle the same dollars.
“A hotel attracts new visitors, thus business, with a higher propensity for local expenditures,” Ainley wrote in his proposal. “For example, hotel patrons are more likely dine out and access entertainment options throughout the week—as opposed to locals who largely use cost-effective groceries and weekend activities.”
Courthouse Square Ventures estimates that the proposed hotel would create more than 50 jobs. There could be even more jobs involved if they were to redevelop the neighboring building that is currently home to the probation. Ainley stated in his proposal that the single-story building could be a mixed-use project with retail or corporate office space. Currently, that building houses the Tulare County Probation Department. If Probation is able to relocate to a county-owned facility, Ainley said the City of Visalia has already expressed interest in leasing the space until its new city hall plans are completed or the building is simply slated for future hotel expansion, such as a conference space or event venue.
The Tulare County Board of Supervisors approval of the proposal at its Oct. 17 meeting began a negotiation phase of the project between County Administrative Services and the developer. Final approval by the Supervisors is slated for Dec. 19.
The four-story building was constructed in 1935 as an expansion of the original County Courthouse built in the 1880s. The 22,300 square foot modern structure is considered a gem of the Public Works Act of the New Deal with its “Art Deco façade and monument-like presence.” The building housed the County Board of Supervisors, Treasury, Auditor, Assessor and Purchasing departments until 1952 when it became the acting Courthouse after the original was damaged by an earthquake with an epicenter in Tehachapi.
When the current Courthouse was constructed in 1958, the building was used for a variety of purposes but has been vacant since 2008.