Hammonds’ Mills Park hotel is almost open
- Published: April 7, 2016
The Mills Park Hotel has been a steadily growing and prominent piece of the Yellow Springs townscape since construction began in fall of 2014. The hotel has used countless board feet of wood, hundreds of gallons of paint, and has already had a few orientation events for its 40 employees. The hotel’s future role in the community — as employer, revenue source and meeting place — is certain. Until recently, however, there was no projected opening date and not many people were able to see inside.
Now contractors are wrapping up the final stages of their respective projects, said Jim Hammond, who is developing the hotel, and just a few more pieces need to fall into place in order to start the domino effect that will carry it to its opening day. The plumbing has to be inspected, Hammond said, which will allow the hotel to be inspected by the health department, which will grant an occupancy permit, which will grant them an inspection by the state fire marshal.
“If all goes well, a tentative opening date could be sometime in late April,” Hammond said recently.
The hotel has been a learning experience for Hammond, who had to navigate the countless surprises of a project of such magnitude, but it has also been a bonding experience for his family, who were all integral to the hotel’s development. Hammond’s vision for the hotel reflects his interest in Yellow Springs’ historical tradition, and his colleagues maintain that the delays in opening are prompted by the care he is putting into the project out of respect for its role in the village.
How it began
The Mills Park Hotel will feature four businesses in one — a 28-room hotel, the banquet hall, Ellie’s Restaurant and Little Miami Mercantile, a gift shop. However, it was not real estate moguldom but an interest in history that led to Hammond opening the hotel. Hammond co-owns and operates the Grinnell Mill Bed and Breakfast, a property he bought and restored largely because of its historic value, as he thought he might as well preserve the building instead of seeing it torn down.
But in 2012 Hammond came across a study conducted by Wright State University of the village’s potential hospitality needs. The study said that while Yellow Springs is home to a number of international businesses, a vibrant arts community and two universities, all of which draw frequent visitors, the low number of overnight accommodations and the lack of large banquet facilities means that lodging typically has to be found out of town, taking any potential money spent in the village with it. With his interest in historic buildings and a hospitality gap that needed to be filled, Hammond began looking at other properties around Yellow Springs with the thought that he might open another bed and breakfast.
One day, after Hammond was shown a number of properties by a real estate agent, they took a walk through the lot on Limestone Street and Xenia Avenue, where the agent told Hammond about the hospitality potential of the lot. On the lot was the Barr House, which was built in 1844 and had first been a residence and later a physician’s office. The building was demolished in a controlled burn in 2013.
Hammond said he was skeptical at first, but a vision slowly coalesced as he considered the possibilities. A hotel with not just three rooms but 15 or 20 would be unique and very helpful to the community, he realized.
“Too bad it’s not for sale,” he recalls himself saying half-seriously. But the real estate agent said the property was in fact for sale, and Hammond was hooked by the idea. But he had no idea what he was getting into, he said. He bought the property in 2012 and began planning for the hotel shortly thereafter.
The family had suffered a loss not long before the lot was purchased, and Libby Hammond said the hotel was a way to work with their grief and strengthen their bond as a family. It also gave focus to the amorphous uncertainty of what comes next, Libby Hammond said.
“I was asking myself, ‘what are we going to do with the rest of our lives?’” she said.
The Hammonds and their daughter, Katie, dove into the project. The family began thinking about what kind of hotel they wanted to build and what it could contribute to the community. Hammond appreciated the location’s proximity to historic Yellow Springs and decided to name the hotel after the park that used to exist close by. The exterior design of the hotel is based on the Mills House, a Yellow Springs mansion built by village founder William Mills that featured a substantial front porch. The porch is important, Hammond said, as it fosters a sense of community by giving people a place to hang out.
The interior is based on the accoutrements of Southern hotels, after the Hammonds took a road trip down south for inspiration. They took note of the odds and ends that caught their eye, and worked with local architect Ted Donnell to develop the property they had in mind. Overall the hotel’s interior reflects an agglomeration of Southern architecture, including even a slight nod to a hotel they saw near Disneyland.
“I’m not quite sure what to call the style,” Hammond said, “Gothic revival? Southern revival? I don’t know — too many revivals.”
A massive undertaking
With a working design finished, ground was broken in spring 2014. Hammond will be the first to say that the project quickly became a much larger undertaking than he envisioned. The Village of Yellow Springs was rewriting Village code when construction began, and bad weather delayed pouring the foundation for two months.
“We were already behind schedule when we started out,” he said.
A variety of problems large and small, from having to change plans for a skylight to door locks that inadvertently went unordered, were commonplace, Hammond said. But such is the nature of construction, said Tommaso Gregor, a local contractor who oversaw all of the finish work inside the hotel. The project seemed insurmountable when he started, he said, but everything looks so easy when it’s done.
“All things considered, it went very smoothly,” Gregor said.
The hotel had its fair share of detractors from the beginning, Hammond said. Villagers took issue with the sheer size of the structure, which Hammond admits is larger than he realized it would be. But he feels that once the project went from a huge pile of framing to a structure people could see and understand, minds began to change.
“I get asked a lot what the building looked like before we refurbished it,” he said. “I wanted to look like it fit in naturally.”
Hammond’s insistence on local contractors, designers, artists and staff reflects his genuine interest in the town, said Gregor, and he suspects that Hammond’s focus on using local talent meant a lot to the -community.
“The property was going to get developed,” Gregor said. “It could have been a large, ugly concrete thing. This is the best outcome.”
The lamps were made by local sculptor Naysan McIlhargey. The rocking chairs are custom made by Stacy Kenny Custom Designs. Local high schooler Lake Miller has multiple photographs in every room, and other local artists have contributed paintings to adorn the walls. A Xenia company handled all the landscaping and much of the wood was cut, sawn and kiln-dried in the area.
“Even these tables are made from pine taken from trees on the property,” said Hammond, rapping on a table with his knuckles during a recent interview.
Many of the contractors are also from the area. Painter Rick Chase, who has painted “hundreds” of houses in Yellow Springs, was tasked with painting the entirety of the interior, which he did with his son and grandson. Gregor, who said he appreciates doing the finish work because “that’s the part everyone sees,” also handpicked the crews he subcontracted.
“The quality of people working on the project really made it go off without a hitch,” Gregor said.
The hotel’s restaurant — Ellie’s, after the Hammonds’ first Corgy — was planned by Katie Hammond, a student at the Ohio State University who changed her major to hospitality management once her family purchased the hotel property, and Grant Peterson, an ex-head chef at Lexis Nexis, who said he was drawn to seek out the position at the restaurant because he had a good feeling about the hotel when he drove by early in its construction. The two developed the menu, which Katie Hammond described as “upscale Southern comfort food.”
“It will be a very eclectic menu,” Peterson said. “Very Southern revival, very farm-to-table.”
Hammond said he had no idea what goes into running a restaurant, but he took the hiring of its substantial staff as a matter of running the hotel like he envisioned. Libby Hammond said that investing in the hotel was also a way to put their finances to work for the community.
Karen Wintrow, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, appreciates Libby Hammond’s sentiment. The hotel is a partner in the community, she said, and she is “beside herself with excitement” that it will be opening soon. The quality of the establishment, thanks to the care Hammond has put into crafting the hotel, speaks well for the town, she said. It gives Yellow Springs an opportunity it hasn’t had before, as it will allow the village to host events, retreats and more people than ever.
“And it’s a way to retain people during a seasonal downtime,” she said. “All of the shopowners are very excited.”
Though the Mills Park Hotel still doesn’t have a concrete opening date, the Hammonds can sense the end is finally near. Weddings are booked in the banquet hall through 2017, Katie Hammond said, and opening sometime in the spring before Street Fair will be good timing.
There isn’t going to be a huge blowout celebrating the end of the project, Hammond said, as getting it up and going is reward enough. He said he is looking forward to the crowds of Street Fair and Yellow Springs in nice weather, watching it all from the vantage point of the porch with a number of citizens who have been vocal about their interest in sitting there and just hanging out. Hammond will be able to rest easy in this situation, as not only will the project be finished, but it will be just the place he envisioned.
“The hotel won’t be like a hotel,” he said. “It will be more like a house than a hotel.”