Historic Stewart Hotel being turned into upscale apartments, themed AirBNB rentals

The Stewart Hotel is being transformed into 12 upscale apartments and six themed rentals.

The Stewart Hotel in Jasper is being revitalized and will begin a new life as a new housing development.

Premier Property Management purchased the 714 Main Street property in 2021 after partner Ruger Kerstiens took part in the building tour hosted through the Heart of Jasper. “Whenever I walked through it the first time, I just saw exactly what I had been envisioning for a downtown building project,” he said.

Working within the constraints of a historic building built around 1890 and supply issues, the building is slowly being transformed. Plans for the Stewart Hotel Apartments call for the first two floors to have six one- and two-bedroom apartments each.

The company plans on preserving unique elements of the building for the interiors of the apartments including exposed brick walls.

The third floor will become six themed AirBNB units for short term lease. While not set in stone, the rental theme ideas include a unit featuring local sports memorabilia, a unit with Western decor, one emphasizing world travel and another all about Rock and Roll. The company decorators are having fun putting the ideas together on the rentals with the hopes that the units will become a sought after feature for visitors to the area.

“I get a lot of calls for short term rentals and we just don’t have a lot around here,” Kerstiens said.

Plus, with the downtown activity, Kerstiens said he thinks visitors will be interested in staying downtown over the weekend or for a week while events are going on. And he wants it to be a really cool experience. “When they go into the Western room, it isn’t just going to be two hats on a wall,” he said. “I want them to know they are in the Western room.”

Being immersed in a themed room will add to their experience and memories in Jasper and Dubois County.

All the units will be accessible through stairwells that are being added to the exterior — two will take up a portion of the courtyard framed by the L-shaped building.

Stewart Hotel circa 1918. Photo courtesy of Ron Flick collection

With an eye to preserving the building’s facade, Premier Properties has stripped the interior down to the original wooden bones. “We are trying to reflect the original design but a lot of the rooms didn’t even have,” Kerstiens noted, adding that the age of the building has taken a toll. “You could touch the windows and they would just shatter.”

The familiar frontage on Main Street will remain, but structural updates will impact the appearance of the rest of the approximately 13,500 square foot building. Along with preserving the familiar facade, visitors will also have access to a vestibule featuring photos, blueprints, historical articles and information about the building on display.

According to a 1965 Jasper Herald article by Art Nordhoff, the Stewart Hotel began its life as the Phoenix Hotel in 1891 at the corner of Main and 8th streets. It was operated by Mrs. Generasa Gasser and her son, Louis, until Louis and his wife took over the hotel in 1895. In 1898, Mr. and Mrs. James Stewart (James married Minnie Gasser) took over the operation and renamed it the Stewart Hotel. They operated it for 15 years until they both died within a year of each other. Then, Louis resumed operation but kept the Stewart Hotel name.

Stewart Hotel lobby circa 1901. Photo courtesy of the Ron Flick collection.

The Gassers modernized the building with running water to all the rooms when they took over in 1912. It remained a wooden structure until 1929-30, when the wood was bricked over and the third story added. Then in 1940, a 100-by-30 foot basement was hand-dug under the hotel, and the 125-seat dining room venue was remodeled to become extra rooms.

The 60-room hotel was operated by Mrs. Gasser and her daughter, Ruth Buecher, until Ruth’s son, Phil, began managing it. The Buechers operated the hotel until it closed in the late 60s, when the first floor was taken over by Jim Demotte of Demotte Law. In an interview for this story, Mr. Demotte noted he is watching the current renovation from next door in the law firm’s new office space at 710 Main Street.

Courtesy of Ron Flick collection.

When Mr. Demotte had moved into his office in the Stewart Hotel, the top two floors were no longer in use. Many of the rooms left exactly as they were when the hotel was in operation.

“It looked like the last visitors had checked out of their hotel room and it had sat like that for 50 years,” Kerstiens said.

But he had a vision as he toured the carpeted, tiny rooms that shared a common bathroom and shower. While the project has been challenging to say the least, adding his mark to a historic downtown building like the Stewart Hotel has been a worthwhile endeavour.

“I think what excites me most is being able to bring the building back to a function that’s pretty close to its original use; bring it back to life and add to the momentum downtown,” Kerstiens said. “I think that that’s been probably the most rewarding thing and near and dear to my heart.”

The Stewart Hotel Apartments is expected to open in early 2023.

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