2017-11-30 / Front Page

Ground broken on 20-room hotel

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

Ground has been broken and construction is expected to begin soon on a 20-room hotel in Empire.

The two-story, wood-frame Sleeping Bear Inn is owned by Megan and Peter Schous, who also own the Empire Lakeshore Inn located on Front Street and M-22 in downtown Empire.

The new inn will be located on M-72 next to the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center, where National Park Service offices are located.

The $1.35 million project is being built by Salisbury & May Construction located in Traverse City and owned by Jim May and Fred Salisbury, who lives in Empire.

“We’re excited to be a part of the hotel and an upgrade in the community,” May said.

A building permit was secured by the company earlier this month. The project represents the first in which the contracting company is working with the Schous.’

“We’re really looking forward to getting this rolling,” May said. “With the weather we’re a little delayed, but we’re going to move as quickly as we can.”

Village President Sam Barr said the hotel is a positive thing for the village.

“There is a need for places for people to stay,” Barr said. “That’s just evidenced by the number of homes that are being purchased and turned into rentals.”

Peter Schous has said previously that overnight sleeping accommodations have been identified as Leelanau County’s largest area of need by the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. The Schous’ did not return several calls from the Enterprise seeking input.

With a several-years-long increase in visitors to the area, that need is becoming more acute.

Paul Skinner, president of the Empire Area Chamber of Commerce, said the hotel is definitely needed. When visitors can find accommodations near the place they want to visit — Sleeping Bear Dunes — instead of in Traverse City, their dollars will stay in Empire and in Leelanau County.

“Those people will shop and dine and do all the things that tourists do,” Skinner said.

Skinner said that not having a municipal sewer system is hurting the area and he is in favor of building a system to serve the village, especially the downtown area.

The core village has several empty buildings and lots that are too small for today’s septic field standards.

“We need infrastructure and without infrastructure it’s not viable to develop those buildings,” Skinner said. “We have tracts of empty land. But we also have 20,000 square feet or more of commercial buildings that have been empty for 20 to 50 years.”

May said that the construction project will have a positive local impact.

“We hire all local guys and we’ve been around here forever,” he said. “I’ve had this company since ’98 — just a little while.”

Plans for the Sleeping Bear Inn have been in progress for more than a year. Five lots were originally purchased for the hotel, but the Schous’ had to purchase an extra lot to put in a septic drainfield large enough for the hotel as mandated by today’s public health codes.

A site plan and special use permit for what is being called a ‘boutique hotel’ was approved in September. The site is zoned commercial/residential.

The Schous’ purchased the Empire Lakeshore Inn in 2013 and have since made several upgrades to its 12 rooms.

Schous has also said the new hotel will aesthetically fit in with Empire. It will be built in the Craftsman style of architecture that includes low-pitched gabled roofs with broad eaves, large front porches and other wooden structural elements.

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