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Work continues on the historic Park Inn hotel

Workers with Renaissance Restoration Inc. of Galena, Ill., confer Wednesday as renovation of the Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank building continues in downtown Mason City. Workers are removing bricks from the exterior so that windows can be installed where they were when the building first opened. Story by Joe Buttweiler.|By Joe Buttweiler

MASON CITY — Construction is buzzing along despite the cold, furniture has been ordered, and there’s a very important deadline June 30 for the restoration of the Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank building in downtown Mason City.

“It’s on target. It’s exciting to see the progress, and we’re going to get this thing done,” said Ann MacGregor, executive director of Wright on the Park Inc.

The $18 million restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed property must be completed in time for a certificate of occupancy to be issued by June 30, MacGregor said. The deadline is a condition of the Vision Iowa program, which is providing $8.2 million for the project, and of the state’s historic tax credit program, which is providing $3.6 million.

Receipt of the occupancy certificate does not necessarily mean people will be sleeping in the 27-room hotel the night of June 30, and there is no truth to the rumor that the first night has been sold out, MacGregor said.

Crews working on the renovation, which began in January of 2010, have encountered some unexpected challenges, according to project manager Cheryl Hubbard of Henkel Construction. For instance, they found that the original brick foundation was crumbling — bricks could be removed by hand because the mortar had turned to powder — so a new concrete foundation was built.

“We had to replace the north and east walls of the foundation,” she said.

The removal of a second floor that was added to the bank building in 1926, the restoration of the first floor to its original elevation, and the removal of windows that were lowered have also posed challenges, Hubbard said Thursday. Originally the bank’s windows were only on the second story. The restored building will have them back where they were originally located when the building opened in 1910.

Hubbard said construction is about 65 percent complete on the Park Inn side and about 40 percent complete on the bank side.

“There is a lot less finishing work on that side, so it should finish well once the structural work is complete,” she said.

Looking at the upper areas of the hotel side is very encouraging, MacGregor said Wednesday. “On the third floor of the hotel all of the rooms are plastered and painted and the trim is stained. It’s exciting to walk through.”

She said all of the room furnishings have been ordered. Choosing a style to match those originally in the hotel proved to be somewhat of a project, MacGregor said, since no photos of the original hotel rooms could be found.

A committee from Bergland + Cram, project architects, and HPI Partners, the Mason City-based company that will run the hotel, evaluated options and chose the furnishings, MacGregor said.

The first floor of the hotel will have a restaurant and bar. The basement gentlemen’s lounge and adjacent billiards room are being restored.

An area that was once the banking floor will feature a multipurpose room that can be booked for conferences, weddings and other special events.

The project is expected to have a significant economic impact on the city, drawing about $4.8 million in visitor spending in the first year, according to a 2008 estimate by former Mason City Chamber of Commerce President Robin Edgar.

Perhaps more importantly will be the civic pride in completion of the restoration, putting Iowa and Mason City on the map as hosting the only working hotel designed by Wright.

The grand opening will be in September on the 101st anniversary of the opening of the hotel. Plans for that and for a series of events leading up to it will begin later this month, MacGregor said.

She said she gets e-mail just about every day from people wondering when the hotel will open. “This morning they came from Oregon and Illinois. It just goes on.”

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