The Kanawha Hotel served as Charleston, West Virginia’s premier hotel from 1903 until 1965. It once housed three sitting presidents, and was the headquarters of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 primary campaign, later being used from the 1960s to 1997 as the site of West Virginia’s Job Corps. Post-closure, the hotel was slated to be restored into a boutique hotel, however after five years, funding for the plan collapsed and the former Kanawha Hotel was demolished.

The Kanawha Hotel received a charter from Secretary of State William O. Dawson on December 24, 1902,24 and opened in 1903 at the corner of Summers and Virginia streets.1 2 4 24 The new hotel contained 96,000 square-feet over seven floors, although it was expanded twice in 1906 with a wing along Summers Street8 and again in 1917.6

The Kanawha Hotel was sold on August 1, 1923 to Angus MacDonald, B.W. Peyton, Prentice Ashton and J.B. Crowley for $525,000.24 Six years later, the Daniel Boone Hotel opened, displacing the Kanawha Hotel as the city’s upscale hotel.

The hotel served as headquarters to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 primary campaign,3 and also hosted Presidents Roosevelt and Hoover.25 Despite this, the hotel stopped accepting guests in 1965 and the building was used by the Job Corps from 1965 to April 1997.4 6 23 24 The program, geared toward training underprivileged young women, was an initiative of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.24

In 1997, Charleston developers Brooks McCabe and Rudy Henley announced that they could save the former Kanawha Hotel from demolition by razing the adjoining Arcade for $8 million.2 The land was assessed for $1.4 million.3 The Arcade would be used for an underground parking structure to serve a renovated Kanawha Hotel and the Kanawha Bank and Trust building, the latter which was being restored into upscale office space and condominiums. In addition, the Wagner Building would be removed for a motor court and a small hotel office structure, while the main entrance to the Kanawha would move from Summers to Virginia Street.2 The development would cost $20 million and involve restoring the Kanawha Hotel into a boutique, upscale facility.3 The main entrance to the hotel would be relocated from Summers Street to Virginia Street. The Kanawha Hotel would be connected to the Kanawha Bank and Trust building.

In order to make the project financially viable, the restoration needed federal and state historic preservation income tax credits.8 To obtain the federal credits, the hotel was required to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places which would require the approval of the National Park Service. The National Park Service signed off on most of the plans for the former hotel, including a new tower that would connect the hotel to the Kanawha Bank and Trust building. It was hoped that the restored building could open by 2000, but instead of containing 200 rooms with 100 bathrooms, it would be reduced to 145 to 152.8 Parking, if not provided at the Arcade, would be accessed by a city parking structure at Quarrier and Summers streets.

Originally, Virginia hotel developer Paul Wilson had planned to buy the Kanawha Hotel and restore it.4 Wilson and McCabe would then split the costs to convert the Arcade into a parking garage. Wilson, however, missed the deadline to purchase the property.6 At one point, the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority had planned on demolishing the Arcade and Hotel for redevelopment.5

Cornerstone Architects had developed plans for a boutique hotel earlier in 1993 and again in 1997 under McCabe.32

On September 13, 1998, the Arcade was demolished in preparation for the hotel restoration project.7 8 Some of the Arcade was salvaged for the hotel. The roof of the Arcade, a series of iron trusses that once held a glass skylight, would form a canopy over the new main entrance to the hotel.8 In addition, some of the ornate cast iron columns would be used in a new entryway. Prior to the demolition of the Arcade, built in 1895, Paul D. Marshall, a historical architect, documented the building through photographs and measured drawings.8

In May 1999, McCabe and Henley approached the city for a $7.7 million loan considered essential to the Kanawha Hotel project.11 Under the plan, the city would acquire and guarantee the loan under a federal program never before used by the city. The 108 Loan Program was typically implemented in other cities to revive failing properties.

On June 23, the Kanawha Bank and Trust was opened to Charleston’s business and governmental leaders for viewing.10 The first three floors became hosts to an upscale restaurant and businesses, while the remainder eight floors were planned for residential units. The residential units were shelled out for completion upon significant pre-leasing.30

The project developers received $6.6 million in federal loans from the Department of Housing and Urban Development on July 9, providing the basis for the financial requirements for the restoration of the hotel.9 Of the money, $6 million was classified as a 108 Loan. As part of the deal, McCabe and Henley agreed to commit 93 of the expected 133 jobs at the new Kanawha Hotel to low-income and moderate-income residents.

On November 9, 2000, McCabe and Henley received approval from the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority for the plan to renovate and restore the historic Kanawha Hotel.13 The project’s cost had escalated to $30 million, but would include a 140-foot, 11-story tower to connect a renovated Kanawha Hotel with the refurbished Kanawha Bank and Trust building.13 14 The new structure would incorporate parts of the architectural styles of both the hotel and the bank buildings. The developers, however, canceled the underground parking structure as architects determined that it was not feasible due to the lot size.14 The developers stated that the hotel would have “100% valet parking.”

Preparations for the work began soon after, with a projected start date of January 2001.14

In December, city officials became uneasy regarding the Kanawha Hotel project, fearing that the project would never be fully realized.12 If that occurred, the 108 Loan would need to be repaid. As a result, city officials and developers tentatively agreed on a plan that would limit the city’s liability for the $6 million loan. The city would share the burden with the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority and the developer, McCabe-Henley-Durbin Properties. Under the tentative plan, the $6 million loan would be split up into three chunks of $2 million.12

On September 17, 2001, the Charleston City Council agreed to guarantee a $6 million Housing and Urban Development loan.15 Unfortunately, the Kanawha Hotel project costs had risen to $31.6 million, and McCabe was still battling three construction pension funds for the bulk of the money – $19.5 million. However, a group of investors had fronted another $6 million in exchange for tax credits.

The return on investment to the city of Charleston $3 million in business and occupation taxes in the first 10 years of operation.15

Unfortunately, not enough investors signed onto the Kanawha Hotel restoration project, and financing dried up in the weak economy following September 11, 2001, according to the developers.23 In June 2002, McCabe offered to sell the property to the Kanawha County Public Library.28 By fall, however, the city of Charleston withdrew its funding of the hotel project 27 and in September, McCabe stated that he was giving up his intentions of restoring the hotel due to financial difficulties.29 In addition, the residential condominiums once planned at the Kanawha Bank and Trust building were shelved, as all residential buyers backed out once the Kanawha Hotel project folded.30 McCabe began paving over the former excavated lot that was once the home of the Arcade.29

In July, the Kanawha County Public Library released its three potential sites for a new location, although the Kanawha Hotel was not on the list.31 The building was sold to Midwinter Investment Group LLC, led by the law firm Robinson & McElwee.20

In early 2003, a representative of Midwinter Investment Group LLC, a group formed by McElwee and Robinson, proposed a 68,000 square-foot, four-story brick building would house the Robinson & McElwee law firm, and a branch of Fifth Third Bank.18 A two-story parking structure would be constructed adjacent to the office building. The complex would cost between $8 million and $9 million.18 21

On April 16, 2003, the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority approved demolition of the hotel without a word of opposition from the board or the public.24 26 The board stated that the rooms were too small for modern hotel or office use, and that an abundance of load-bearing walls and century-old architectural quirks would make renovation difficult.26 27

Demolition of the former Kanawha Hotel began in May.23 25 It was discovered that asbestos lined the windows and on the roof, the latter which had to be chiseled apart by hand. Controversy surrounded the demolition, however, as the Charleston Gazette revealed that Astech Corp. and Tenth Diamond Inc., two of the contractors conducting the demolition, were actually operating names for the same owners.19 20 21 22 Allegations were also revealed against Goldizen Excavating.

Tenth Diamond listed its employees as “general construction” workers, which meant the firm paid just $9 in Workers’ Compensation premiums per $100 of wages, instead of the $48 required for demolition and asbestos-removal. After the Gazette disclosed its findings, the state agency that compensates injured workers stated that Tenth Diamond misclassified its employees for years, and owed $800,000 in back premiums.19 20 21

The Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation protested that hotel debris, which contained toxic lead and asbestos, was being dumped illegally at the end of Newhouse Branch north of Charleston. Immediately, the state Department of Environmental Protection stopped dumping at the dump.19 20 22 Soon after, it was discovered that the debris was being dumped along the Poca River beside Camp Virgil Tate outside of Sissonville.20 The debris hauling was stopped by several sheriff deputies on July 26.19

On August 20, the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority approved site plans for the office building, however, a planned two-story parking structure adjacent to the new office building was rejected on October 10 for failure to meet architectural guidelines for the urban renewal district.17 Construction on the office building was scheduled for completion by July 31, 2004.17 23

On February 11, 2004, the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority allocated $115,000 for streetscape work on the corner of Virginia and Summers streets that included new sidewalks that match the red brick and period lighting of Capitol Street.16 The contract would wrap around the under-construction four-story Fifth Third Center that replaced the Kanawha Hotel.

Another $195,000 could go toward extending renovations that would go to the corner of Summers and Quarrier streets and along the north side of Virginia Street to the Capitol Street intersection.16

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