Questions & Answers about The Sherburne Inn
Interview with Kathleen Yasas, president, Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project
What is the status of The Sherburne Inn right now?
First I’d like to recap details about our grants. Understanding (and administering) the grants is complicated, but they have been so important to this project:
SSIRP was awarded a $500,000 NYS Parks grant in December 2013 with a required match of 31% of the grant budget we submitted (grant budget was approx. $720,000). We made our grant match — approximately $223,000 in 2015 (part of the match was the purchase price of the building, $165,000, in April 2013; the rest of the match was achieved through fundraising). We used the 2013 grant for exterior work: brick pointing, window restoration (not window replacement), column restoration, east and north porch deck demo and rebuild, handicap access ramp, balustrade replacement on east and north porch roofs, rebuild of three sets of steps, dining porch restoration, and other exterior work and demo. This exterior work was completed in January 2016.
SSIRP was awarded another $500,000 from NYS Parks in December 2014, with a grant match requirement of 50% of the grant budget. The match percentage changed from 31% to 50% because the census in the area changed — the poverty level here was determined to have dropped. The grant budget submitted was approximately $1,000,000, so our match requirement was 50% of the million dollar budget, or $500,000.
In March 2018, we were awarded a $1,000,000 Restore New York grant through a grant submission by the Town of Sherburne. This grant requires a 10% match ($100,000), which SSIRP had on hand at the time of the award thanks to fundraising and continuing donations from individuals and board members. Since the Restore New York grant can be used to match the Parks grant, we’ve matched our Parks 2014 $500,000 grant with the Restore NY funds, and we matched the Restore New York grant with $100,000 on hand.
At the time of this writing we’re working on securing a draw-down loan from a lending institution, sorting out the many complicated details of administering two state grants at once, working with SHPO on approvals, finalizing interior structural design with our architects, and getting a kitchen design in place. Once these details are accomplished, we’ll go out to bid to begin work on the building interior.
What are the next steps in construction?
We hope to begin interior construction in the spring/summer of 2019.
Why weren’t all the windows restored? There are windows on the west side of the building that obviously need work.
We didn’t restore all of the windows on the west side of the building because they’re going to be removed when the elevator addition is built. There are a couple of windows on the southwest corner (in the alley) that will be restored once construction starts again. Exterior doors will also be restored, but we elected to wait until a later phase to restore doors because we didn’t want them to get damaged once construction materials and workers start going in and out of the building.
When do you expect to open?
We don’t have an opening date yet. We’ll know more once we have bids and construction begins.
What’s the plan for the building?
We’re planning a restaurant, a bar, 16-18 guest rooms, meeting and event space, a gift shop, and a small business center. Other possibilities down the road include a basement tavern, a coffee shop, spa services, and exercise room.
How will the operation work?
SSIRP will lease the building to a hospitality management group that will run the restaurant, bar, and hotel operations. SSIRP will maintain ownership and will be responsible for building maintenance, which will be funded by the monthly lease payments.
How do the grants work?
Some people imagine that when we’re awarded a grant from the state they simply cut us a check, as with the private industry or other grants (ie, Chobani, NBT, the Brown fund). The state doesn’t work that way. Like the first state grant, both the 2014 Parks grant ($500,000) and the 2018 Restore NY grant ($1,000,000) are reimbursement grants. This means that a draw-down loan must be established from a lending institution. Construction work is paid for as it is completed through the draw-down loan. The paid invoice is then submitted to the state grant representatives, after which a reimbursement check is cut. This means SSIRP must make interest payments in the lag time between paying the contractor and getting reimbursed, which could be anywhere from one month to six months. We are not allowed to use grant money for interest payments. This is why we continue to raise money even though we’ve been awarded these large grants.
Who gets the income from the restaurant/bar/hotel once the inn is open?
While the organizational structure is not yet in place, we anticipate that the hospitality group will make the income from the building’s operations. SSIRP’s only income will be from the monthly lease payment.
What happens when SSIRP makes money and there’s an excess over building maintenance? Who gets that money?
If there is an excess in the building maintenance reserve fund because the building maintenance costs come in under budget, SSIRP will consider donating extra funds to a local cause. For example, we might fund or help to fund the preservation of other historic properties in Sherburne, or host a fundraiser to help raise money for a specific community cause, or set up a scholarship at SECS for students going into the hospitality/hotel management fields. SSIRP board members will not profit from income generated by the Inn.
How many jobs do you expect to create once the Inn is open?
We anticipate that 30-40 full- and part-time jobs at the Inn will be created. This doesn’t include such economic development aspects as local sourcing for food, drink, products, and other services.
Since you’ve gotten these big grants, why do you continue to fund raise?
We continue to fund raise because we have annual expenses that we are not allowed to use grants to cover, including property taxes, fees to accountants and other professional service providers, overhead on the building (electricity, water, lawn maintenance, snow removal, etc.), and — the biggest expense — interest on reimbursement loans.
Why are you paying property taxes if you’re a nonprofit?
This was a decision made by the town assessor.
How much will it cost to complete the building?
We’re working on a $3.5 million budget. This amount can go up or down, depending on the next phases of the project and unexpected factors.
Will the Inn feature local artwork?
One of the ideas we’re discussing is offering local artists the opportunity to display their work on consignment at the Inn, whereby the Inn would take a percentage of sales. When we say “artwork” we’re talking about paintings, illustrations, photography, and possibly sculpture. This is good for both the artist and the Inn in that the artists would have a venue to sell their work that they might not otherwise have, and the Inn would have continuously rotating décor of fine local art that would generate some income.
Who do you see as your customers?
We anticipate the Inn will draw dining and overnight guests first and foremost. We have received a $30,000 grant from the Herbert & Mariea Brown Charitable Trust for build-out and décor for the bridal suite, and expect many bridal parties to stay at the Inn. Since purchasing the building in 2013, we have been asked every year about class reunions being held there, and so anticipate not only class reunion guests and diners, but family reunion guests and diners as well. The bar will also draw customers, and we expect that area corporations will make use of the building for meetings, lunches, dinners, and overnight stays. In 2015 SSIRP board members met with area corporations, including Chobani, Norwich Pharmaceuticals, Unison GE, and Preferred Mutual, to assess their needs. Sleeping rooms and meeting space were determined to be top needs, and in response to that research we are including a long-term residence room in the building to accommodate extended corporate stays and “snowbirds.” We also expect to get overflow business from Colgate University parents and students.
Will there be opportunities for other sponsors for specific funding, like the sponsorship from the Brown Trust?
Yes, we’re working on a listing of potential sponsorship opportunities now, which will be published on the website when it’s completed. Off the top of my head, some of the opportunities will include sponsoring the residence room, suites and standard rooms, the business center, the dining porch, the dining room fireplace rebuild, décor for the bar, flower boxes, porch planters, and so on. Along with monetary sponsorship’s, we’re accepting other types of donations, including artwork, bric-a-brac, and furniture. Ultimately we’ll put together a listing of everything being donated and will also publish that list on the website. A word to donors of items: a committee will need to review any proposed donation to be sure it’s appropriate for the building and for our needs, but we’re very appreciative to all who are interested in participating in the reinvention of the Inn.
What are your thoughts about competition in Sherburne? Now that Lewis’ has reopened, and the Bullthistle Brewery is open, are you concerned about too many restaurants in town?
We’re not at all concerned. We believe that the more restaurants there are in Sherburne, the more people will come to Sherburne to eat, stay, and appreciate all the town has to offer, not the least of which are a golf course, a lovely B&B, and the Rogers Environmental Education Center. We’re on very good terms with the people who run both Lewis’ and the brewery; and while it may sound corny, we have a “Miracle on 34th Street” attitude: if someone comes to the Inn for a dish we don’t have, we’re happy to send them to Lewis’ or the brewery or Mountain Top or the diners or the pizza place or the sub shop. The goal for all of us should be to get customers to Sherburne and make them happy … if we do that successfully, they’ll come back to eat, to shop, to stay. A plus for the Inn will be that it’s the only hotel/restaurant in town, which means it will have automatic restaurant/bar business from those staying in the guest rooms.
What is your progress with getting a liquor license?
The liquor license will be acquired by the hospitality group leasing the building.
Besides building construction, what other expenses do you anticipate?
Once the building has been restored, we’ll need to fill it with furniture and other décor, plus kitchen equipment, supplies, dishes, glasses, linens, pots and pans, and everything else that makes up a hotel, restaurant, and bar. Many people have donated décor items to the Inn already, some of which are those that came from the Inn originally. We are also accepting donations of artwork either as gifts to the Inn or, as I mentioned, on consignment. Building construction and restoration is just one piece of the puzzle.
Are you worried about parking?
We are not worried about parking. In addition to the village lot to the west of the Inn, there are two other large village lots within a block or two and plenty of street parking on North Main, West State, and East State, and a few spots on South Main. Since we bought the building, we’ve had fundraising events of over 100 people and have never had a parking issue.
Where did you get the money to buy the building?
Money to buy the building came from individual board members and friends of the Inn. There is no mortgage on the building, SSIRP owns it free and clear. There are a few loans from board members that have open-ended payback dates.
How have donations from individuals been used?
I cannot emphasize this enough: were it not for donations from Sherburne individuals, former residents, individuals from surrounding communities, and friends of board members, we would never have been in a position to accept the Restore New York grant, which has pushed us over the top. We began with the purchase of the building and little more. Donations from individual donors have been the backbone of this effort, and have been used for some of the things I mentioned earlier – taxes, overhead, professional services, interest on the first draw-down loan, and of course went toward our match of the 2013 Parks grant and our match of the 2016 Restore New York grant. We’ve also held many fundraisers since 2013, and are profoundly grateful for the support this community has shown. For example, just recently a former Sherburne resident and his family have stepped forward to donate time, money, and effort to support the redesign and re-energizing of our website, and will add a sales arm to the site through which we can sell Inn merchandise (tee shirts, Christmas ornaments, mugs, INN-Sider books, etc.). Our sister organization, the INN-Siders, has published two books about the Inn and is working on a third. We’ve received memorial donations from individuals who have passed away, and from young people who can’t wait to eat their first-ever meal at the Inn. People from around the country — quite literally — have donated time, effort, funding, furniture, artwork, and encouragement. The enthusiasm about this project has been an unexpected and deeply-appreciated surprise.
Some people have said that the grant money would have been better spent on other needs, like on the poor for example. What do you say about that?
The first thing that comes to mind is that I’d rather create jobs and give the poor an opportunity to work. More important to understand, though, is that the grant money we’ve been awarded was never going to the poor here or anyplace else had the award not come our way. The two half-million-dollar grants and the Restore New York grant were always going toward some sort of preservation or downtown economic development projects. If the grants hadn’t come to The Sherburne Inn, they would have gone to other preservation/restoration projects in New York State. So we say, why not Sherburne? And we believe a high tide raises all boats. A healthy town is good for everybody, and that includes those who are at the moment less fortunate than others.
What would you say to the naysayers?
I’d say we look forward to seeing you at the Inn, serving you a fine meal and a nice glass of wine, and hope you’ll come back soon.
Why do you think this project is good for Sherburne?
All you have to do is look around at other rural towns in the state, many near Sherburne. It’s hard enough to keep young people engaged adequately to stay in (or return to) their small hometowns and become an active part of the community. When rural downtowns fall to ruin and anchor corners become occupied by gas stations or abandoned buildings, everything fails: local businesses close or move away, the housing market declines, tourists with disposable income who might stop to eat or shop pass on by, and residents sell their homes at a loss and move away. Sherburne is experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now. Lewis’ has reopened under its iconic name and ownership, and by all accounts business is booming. The Bullthistle Brewery is open, and the former Grange building on North Main Street has been renovated as a possible event space. Stella’s sub shop has opened on East State, and other downtown buildings are occupied with robust businesses. The addition of a very nice 24-hour Stewart’s Shop — vastly superior to the old one and in a location that doesn’t detract from Sherburne’s four corners with well-considered landscaping and outdoor seating — has livened up downtown. We at SSIRP would like to think that the excitement around the Inn project has contributed to this renewal. That’s the main reason we think the Inn project is good for Sherburne.
Why is this project so important to the SSIRP board?
Because we’re preservationists and historians at heart. Since 1803 there’s been either a tavern or a hotel on that corner, and we believe that a continuity and conservancy of history is important to the survival of rural communities. I’m always struck by a photo I’ve seen at Sherburne’s historic park, of local men gathering next to the Medbury Hotel, a predecessor to the Inn, getting ready to go off to fight in The Civil War. Who knows how many of those boys didn’t make it home? But there they are, maybe in the last photo of them ever taken, standing at the four corners of downtown Sherburne, soon to head south and into history. It’s a really stunning photographic artifact. And there are so many others, of The Sherburne House, which burned down in 1915, and of the Inn itself in all of its incarnations over the decades, inside and out. The photos of that corner and of The Sherburne Inn track the rich history of this village. To have torn down the Inn and put up a gas station, in our view, would have been a tragedy.
So why has this been so important to us? The Inn is a century-old building that holds the very heart of our community in its walls. Wedding receptions, birthdays, retirement dinners, baby showers, Sunday brunches, class reunions, family reunions, holiday parties, business gatherings … the Inn has seen them all, along with famous people like Duke Ellington and Duncan Hines and Jim Braddock appearing at the front door and sleeping in the guest rooms. We named our organization Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project because first and foremost we felt it was important to save this historic structure. We’re proud that we were able to do that.
I’ve heard that a few people call the Inn “that pile of bricks on the corner,” which makes me laugh. Clearly, those folks don’t understand historic preservation, and maybe don’t even appreciate history. And that’s okay. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. From our perspective — and from the perspectives of New York State (which has awarded us two million dollars) and the National Register of Historic Places (which has listed the Inn as a meaningful historic architectural landmark) — The Sherburne Inn is an important pile of bricks. It’s also one that SSIRP will do its best to make into a beautiful hotel that Sherburne can be proud of, and a thriving business that creates jobs, and an appealing venue that creates memories for our kids, and a bright star on our anchor corner that will quite literally turn the lights back on in our historic downtown district. This has taken us a little longer to accomplish than we hoped, but as carpenters like to say, measure twice, cut once. Thanks to the SSIRP board’s persistence, and to all of those who believed in us, we’ll get there.