Couple ready to restore historic Central Hotel

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It stood vacant and boarded up for more than 30 years at the corner of north Second Street and Becker Avenue in Belen. The old Central Hotel, located along the Heart of Belen, was on its last brick of life.

One more heavy down pour or snowfall could have brought the building crumbling down to its foundation by the roof collapsing in and bringing with it the building’s walls and history.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Lenore Wyly and her husband, Chip, co-owners of the Old Central Hotel in Belen, talk about the status of renovations on the historic 1909 building. Renovations on the building will begin by replacing the roof, windows, doors and replacing a portion of the foundation.

But that all changed about a week ago when construction crews began bustling in and out of the building, built in 1909, working to restore the iconic red brick hotel.

They’ve cleared out the building, removed the upper level windows, removed sections of the wooden floor to evaluate foundational damage and served the pigeons and bats their eviction notice.

Belen city councilors and residents clapped and cheered, with some even shouting, “Yay!” and “So excited!” during the announcement of the hotel’s restoration at a recent council meeting.

Steven Tomita, the city’s economic and development director, told councilors he viewed the building’s renovations and potential as “just the beginning.”

“We have an incredible opportunity that others don’t have,” Tomita said. “It’s setting the potential trend that can be very dynamic for Belen.”

The hotel’s resurrection will encourage others to restore or upkeep their buildings, as well, some of which is already happening, said Mayor Rudy Jaramillo.

“Some things are happening and people are saying, ‘Hey Belen’s moving. Lets get something done,’” Jaramillo said.

Renovations to the building were postponed by half a year when the movie production company utilized the hotel as part of the modern-day western “The Last Stand,” staring former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Lenore Wyly, co-owner of the hotel.

The building, transformed into Irv’s Dinner in the movie, pushed Wyly and her husband and hotel co-owner, Chip, to abate the building of lead paint and asbestos, Wyly said.

The building’s renovations will begin by making the building structurally sound by replacing the roof, reinforcing the foundation and installing windows and doors to seal off the building — a project estimated to cost $500,000. These will be followed by updating the plumbing and utilities and adding electricity since the building has none.

Becker Brick Co. extracted bricks from the former Tommy’s Lounge on Main Street that may be incorporated into the building’s structure, but Wyly said they’re figuring out how.

The hotel should look similar to the historic Belen Hotel, owned by artist Judy Chicago and her husband, Donal Woodman, located across the street from Old Central Hotel, once renovations are completed, said Fox Builders’ representatives.

Although the building’s use is yet to be determined, a portion of the building will be used to store wine from the 10-acre Jaramillo Vineyards located about six miles from the hotel.

The vineyard is operated by Wyly’s brother, Robert Jaramillo. The usage of the building will determine the hotel’s future use, which could include a wine tasting room, Wyly said.

Since New Mexico’s wine industry isn’t located in one central location, the hotel could showcase the state’s wine selection, said Chip. This could work hand in hand with transporting visitors to downtown Belen on the New Mexico Rail Runner.

“What you’re doing is going to be a huge catalyst. The response on it and follow through on it is going to be incredible,” Tomita said.

Tomita already received a phone call from a local winery who is interested in displaying its wines at the hotel.

Resident Jane Johnson said establishing a micro brewery in Belen has been a dream of hers since she moved into the city 18 years ago.

“I’m almost in tears over this,” Johnson told councilors.

Wyly described the 4,500 square foot building as an “old beautiful building,” and one which brings to reality her goals.

“Ever since I’ve known her, she was going to have a brick building,” Chip said of his wife. “We didn’t know what (building) it was, but she’s always enjoyed the older things from times past.”

Wyly smiled and added, “There’s something about a brick building.”

For more than seven years, Chip has been watching the hotel, knowing that Wyly was interested in purchasing it for the right price. The couple found the building for sale online while working on a proposal late one night.

“Knowing how much work would need to go into this building it was too high priced … That night I said, ‘That building, as much work as needs to be done to it, if I would buy it at this price maybe then it would be worth it,’” Wyly said.

Later Wyly’s brother, Jaramillo, mentioned he needed a building to store wine tanks until the wine was ready to be sold.

“I told him, ‘You know there’s this one facility. I just don’t know how much work is involved in it, but we’ve been looking at it for seven years waiting for the price to go down,’” Wyly said.

That evening Wyly and her husband checked on the building’s sale and to their surprise, it was at the exact price Wyly said she would purchase the building for. In May 2011, the couple purchased the hotel.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.