CHEYENNE — Twenty thousand cars pass by the historic Plains Hotel each day at its downtown location on Central Avenue in Cheyenne, which is still brimming with history and much of the same charm the hotel had when built in 1911.
The historic hotel has just hit the market with an asking price of $5.85 million, or $44,656 for each of its 131 rooms.
Hotel owner Astrid, who doesn’t have a last name, told Cowboy State Daily she still believes the hotel is a bargain at that price.
The legendary hotel, which was born during the Industrial Club’s annual, $1 dinner in December of 1909, is still a grand hotel, a place to fire imaginations, and bring people in.
And it is now in much better shape than when Astrid purchased the hotel in 2015. She has already done most, if not all, of the deferred maintenance that the hotel needed. That includes a new elevator, a new roof, a new hot water system, new insulation, and a new fire-safety system.
Astrid also doubled the size of the Wigwam, the hotels historic saloon, and remodeled its historic restaurant. Some of the hotel units on the fifth floor were also converted to an extended-stay format, with a partial kitchenette.
“I very, very strongly got that building to its function, primarily,” Astrid told Cowboy State Daily. “And since I love antiques and history, I’ve collected I would say 100-plus original pieces of — there was no artwork on the second to fifth floor — and I probably, seriously (placed 100) to 200 pieces of regional history.”
The location of the hotel is also good, Astrid said.
“It’s on the crossroads of America, and it was built to impress,” she said. “It was built for, you know, the transportation corridor — we are on the Lincoln Highway, and that may have been its absolute reason for coming alive — but it was the biggest hotel west of Chicago on the Lincoln Highway when it was built.”
A Tiger By The Tail
Running a hotel, though, was never Astrid’s game plan when she bought the Plains Hotel, and has been an expensive life lesson for Astrid.
She already owned four other successful hotels converted to long-term stay facilities at the time she decided to buy the Plains Hotel. She was quite taken with the hotel’s history, and, while she’d never done such a conversion herself, she felt confident she could take it on for such a special place.
“I just bought the Plains thinking, I will tackle this building and get it to where we can help folks in Cheyenne with small units,” Astrid said. “You know, what you do with the hotels, you take every second bathroom and make it a kitchenette and put a door between. And this is done all the time, and it just makes a really inexpensive conversion.”
She was no stranger to fixing up historic properties, since that is what so many of her existing properties are.
In the case of the Plains, though, the conversion turned out to be more complicated than she had expected.
Right off the bat, the deferred maintenance turned out to be far, far worse than she’d expected. She knew when she bought it, since it was selling atauction, that it would not be good. But after closing on the deal for $3 million sometime in 2015 or so, she found that the roof had caved in. Rather than repairing it, the affected room had been gutted and locked up by the caretaker, which had been a bank at the time.
Other rooms, meanwhile, had been cannibalized to keep the rest of the hotel going, which meant there were fewer functional rooms than she’d expected.
While fixing all sorts of these problems, she also found herself forced to run the hotel at a loss. The Plains already had bookings a full year out, and more.
After fixing all those issues, the cost of doing a full code upgrade, which is what she needs to run her envisioned extended-stay units, is no longer something she can afford.
“A full code upgrade is probably a couple million dollars,” she said. “And since I’ve slid $3 million in here in seven-plus years, I don’t have the two extra million to do that anymore.”
Now that she’s in her 60s, she’s also wanting to slow some things down a little bit. Especially considering she has four other, already converted hotels, including the Frontier in Cheyenne.
Still A Historical Treasure
Astrid still believes the extended-stay conversion is probably the most feasible for the hotel’s financial future.
But she could also see someone buying it who wants to steward a gem of Cheyenne history. Maybe they also have a dream of running a boutique hotel. It would be hard to find one with more unique western history than the Plains.
An upscale renovation, under the direction of an experienced hotel owner, could easily position the property to remain a hotel, listing agents Gordon Allred and Eliyahu Appel write in a description of the Plains Hotel at Marcus & Millichap.
During Cheyenne Frontier Days this year, for example, the hotel had 2,000 guests from July 21 to July 30. At the going rate of $600 per room some nights, that brought in $230,000 in a 10-day period.
That shows the hotel’s potential is still strong, Astrid believes.
Magic Hotel For A Magic City
Cheyenne was a very wealthy city at the time the Plains Hotel was born, it was known as the “magic city” on the Plains. Cheyenne’s elite felt their city needed a grand hotel, to go with that magic city name.
But all it had was the Inter-Ocean, a hotel that had become sadly dated, and that was more well-known as a drinking establishment. It wasn’t representing Cheyenne the way the elite members of its business community felt it should be.
Thomas Heaney, then the Industrial Club’s president, had blurted out his opinion during the club’s annual dinner — half seriously — that Cheyenne badly needed a new and modern hotel. The idea may have been half-serious, but it took hold.
Within a year, Heaney and others who’d been at his table had formed the Cheyenne Securities Company, with the intention of seeing a brand-new hotel rise up on the Plains, one much more fitting for Cheyenne.
They hired architect William Dubois to design this dream hotel. Construction was completed in 1911 for a mere $250,000 — roughly $8 million in today’s dollars.
Their five-story vision made reality sported three elevators along with 100 finely furnished guest rooms. Every room had its own private bath. Not only that, every room in the hotel had its own telephone. These were luxuries not generally available in hotels of the day. It put the Plains Hotel among the finest in the West.
Cattle barons, oil tycoons, and wealthy travelers headed to Yellowstone, all flocked to this new hotel, raving about its amenities and services.
Renée Jean can be reached at [email protected].