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July 28, 2014

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Visitor slowdown has historic Boulder City hotel needing money

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

The remodeled Boulder Dam Hotel was built in 1933. The hotel needs a cash infusion of up to $60,000 to make it through the summer, which is its traditionally its slow season, its managers say.

Boulder Dam Hotel

The Treasured Times Tearoom is one of the rooms refurbished in the Boulder Dam Hotel under the supervision of manager Roger Shoaff. The tearoom, one of the amenities and sources of revenue at the hotel, offers tea by reservation only. Launch slideshow »

Map of Boulder Dam Hotel

Boulder Dam Hotel

1305 Arizona Street, Boulder City

Beyond the Sun

The first time Bill Ferrence stepped into the lobby of the run-down Boulder Dam Hotel in the mid-1970s, he loved the old building despite itself.

There were trenches in the basement for plumbing, he said, and a series of owners had been through trying unsuccessfully to make a go of the dilapidated hotel.

His love led him to help organize the Boulder Dam Hotel Association, which since 1993 has raised $3 million to bring the hotel back to its splendor of the 1930s and 1940s, when it hosted movie stars and world leaders.

The renovated hotel, now owned by the nonprofit Boulder City Museum and Historical Association, was on track to be self-sufficient, said Ferrence, the association’s president.

But the recession has hurt the hotel’s occupancy rates, as it has hotels on the Strip, he said. That drop has been the difference between financial health and crisis, he said.

The Boulder Dam Hotel needs a cash infusion of up to $60,000 to make it through the summer, which is its traditionally its slow season, Ferrence said.

In the early days of fundraising in the 1990s, Ferrence said, people could stand on the first-floor landing and see the sky through the roof, which had been torn off to be replaced.

“It was easy then to convince people that we needed money,” he said. Now, as he sat in the hotel’s well-appointed lobby with polished wood and classic furniture, Ferrence said, “Our success is a big problem. We’re in bad financial condition, and it’s hard to tell that when you come for events or lunch or to stay at the hotel.”

The hotel has become a center of the city’s downtown historic district, he said, and closing it is a prospect that no one wants to see.

“There are a large number of people who have said, “'We can’t let that happen,'” Ferrence said.

Three weeks ago, the historical association sent letters to supporters asking for donations of $1,000 apiece to raise the capital the hotel needs, Ferrence said, as so far the response has been good. As of last week, he had checks for $10,000 in hand and commitments for several thousand more, he said.

The historical association has more than the hotel’s future at stake. Its Boulder City Hoover Dam Museum occupies part of the mezzanine and its archives are kept in the basement. In addition, the Boulder City Art Guild has its gallery in the hotel. Both would be without a home if the hotel was forced to close, Ferrence said.

The need for the hotel to remain open is clear, board member Darryl Martin said.

“The hotel is an icon of what Boulder City was and is,” he said. “People understand the importance of this icon.”

One option, Ferrence and Martin said, would be to close the hotel -- at least or the restaurant and museum -- for a couple of months. That would save on payroll but the mortgage, insurance and other overhead costs still would come due.

Ferrence called that Plan B, but “not what we want to do.” He is afraid the time the hotel is closed will hurt its long-term business.

The final option is to close the hotel and walk away, Ferrence said, adding, “We’re a ways from that.”

Longtime hotel supporter Linda Faiss, a former board member, said the community has too much money and sweat equity invested in the hotel to allow that to happen.

“I think that Boulder City had gone to extraordinary steps to save it,” she said. “It’s a much better investment now than it was then. It’s too good to lose.”

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