A new life could be in store for the former Jefferson Court Motel.
At a public hearing last week, New Castle city council heard the the request of new owner Robert Taft of Hermitage for a conditional use approval to convert the former motel located at 115 N. Jefferson St. to a climate-controlled storage facility.
Taft proposes a mixed business and service use as his plans also including selling packing and moving services and moving supplies including boxes, from the site.
The city planning commission earlier this month recommended that Taft be given permission to carry out his plans.
The planning commission, which recommended the use, is an advisor board. The final say is up to city council.
“The planning commission granted its blessing. I hope city council adds its approval,” said Taft, who has operated Taft Plumbing and Heating of Hermitage for 35 years.
Four years ago, he said, he purchased Shenango Mini Storage on West Grant Street in New Castle.
“We’ve had 100 percent occupancy for some time,” he said. “I hope to have the same success with this place.”
Taft said he purchased the former motel from local attorney Paul Lynch in January for $20,000. If council approves his plans, Taft said, he plans to invest about $50,000 to convert the hotel’s 56 guest rooms and bathrooms to large and small storage areas.
He anticipates the rooms, 12-feet by 50-feet, could rent for $70 per month. The bathrooms, measuring 8-feet by 50-feet, will open to the main hallway and rent for $45 per month. Rental fees may change, he said, depending on the amount of work required to make the conversions.
The building will be heated in cold months and cooled in hot ones, but the rental units will not have individual controls, he said.
“I’ll be doing the work myself,” he said, adding, “If council approves my request at its June 28 meeting, I expect to get started right away and go full bore. Unless I uncover a curve ball, we expect to have at least some of the units available for rental in six months.”
Taft said he plans to clean up and secure the L-shaped building, replace any broken or missing glass wall windows at the front of the structure. He plans to close in or otherwise secure room windows that face the alley at the back of the building. He plans to keep the overall look of the structure.
On Thursday, council president Bill Panella asked about his plans for a sign, if there would be employees at the site, and about operating hours.
Taft said there would be no employees and he anticipates that renters will have 24/7 access to their units, as they do in other storage businesses that he operates.
Councilman Richard Beshero expressed hope that the building would be cleaned up.
“I like the look. I like the Jefferson sign. I hope to incorporate it into my design,” Taft said following the hearing. He said he has done some research on the architecture which dates to the 1950s or 1960. “It’s based on the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. I like it,” he said.
Taft said he does not know the exact age of the building but said it is sound.
“There were broken windows but the building has held up surprisingly well,” Taft said. “There were no cracks or sagging anywhere. It was built right.”
After taking over the property at the end of January, Taft said, he rented a dumpster and emptied trash and furnishings and moved out vagrants who had taken up living in the building.
“The place was full of vagrants,” he said. “We got them out and changed the locks. But apparently one person was left inside and locked in. He kicked out a door in order to get out.”
He said he contacted the police department who went with him to check every room to be sure no one was overlooked, and he’s had no more vagrant problems since mid-February.
Taft said he is confident that he and his crew will be able to do the work on his six month deadline, “Unless we get too busy on other projects. That might slow this one down a little.”
He noted that since purchasing the building, he has worked with city zoning officer James Farris and code director Anthony Cioffi in preparation for the planning commission meeting and council hearing.”Both have been very helpful,” he said. “I expect to continue to work with them as we get ready to submit out permits applications.”
“This is a gamble for me,” Taft said, “but the building could be salvaged and go from an eyesore to an asset if I get permission to do what I want.”