Ormsby House owners had "first class" plans

A thick roll of plans sits on a table inside the Carson City building department. Inside are the vision two local businessmen have for a magnificent and reborn Ormsby House.

The vision might never be anything more than paper and print if owners Don Lehr and Al Fiegehen follow through with a recent application to demolish the structure.

Arched windows and new contemporary features would adorn the facade of the resort, which would offer 127 suites. A sunken casino floor would be surrounded by a full-scale buffet on one end, a brewery and separate bar on another wall and coffee shop on the other.

A nightclub would sit in another corner for those ready for a night out.

Riding the escalator upstairs to the second floor in the main building, visitors could dress in formal evening wear to spend a night satisfying their appetites for a fine-dining experience at the upscale restaurant.

Conference rooms to hold 1,000 attendees would be alive and buzzing with business people.

Guests could check into luxury suites during their stays on the fifth through 10th floors walking out onto balconies overlooking the capital city.

"It has the potential to be the star of the community," said chief building official Phil Herrington. "What they have planned is first-class. They really haven't skimped on anything."

Lehr and Fiegehen decided last week, however, to demolish the 190,000-square-foot structure they have been working on for the past two years after encountering problems with city regulations and requirements, they said.

The two have put $8 million into stripping the inside of the tower hotel and casino -- renovating about the same interior space as a Super Wal-Mart would have --and were set to begin major renovation of the outside of the structure.

Permits were issued Aug. 4 to begin exterior work and scaffolding was put in place last week by Metcalf Builders before work was halted Friday.

The facade was planned to have new cornices and arch details around new windows on each suited room, but it would maintain the feel of contemporary Nevada western to blend with surroundings.

As it sits today, the building is basically just walls and bare floors. The next step would be to begin permitting inside projects, like rooms or the casino floor, said John Symons, city plan checker in charge of overseeing plans on the project.

The project was "fast-tracked," Herrington said. That allowed builders to begin the project in phases while the city worked through plan and permit approvals. City staff hours reviewing the project and working with it are expected to top 200 hours. Owners have paid $20,000 in plan-check fees to date.

"(At first) I was just absolutely running in place over this," Herrington said. "But you've got to have patience with a facility like this."

Major work was encountered while gutting the hotel tower, including an asbestos assessment, and piping and electrical complications that weren't anticipated, Symons said.

The owners are also being required to install firewalls and upgrade fire safety systems throughout the building to make it safe. The potential for a vertical fire through the hotel tower is tremendous, Symons said.

Plans also called for replacing air conditioning and heating systems and new mechanical and electrical systems throughout the structure.

"All they're doing is keeping the outside walls," Symons said.

The nine-month renovation has stretched now to two years, with major work still undone. It was expected to cost $20 million before completion.

City officials are expecting to meet with Lehr and Fiegehen late today or Monday to discuss the future of the structure before a final decision to tear it down is made. A letter was sent to the owners Monday by officials, imploring them to reconsider their decision to demolish the 31-year-old building that has been a cornerstone of the downtown area. Lehr and Fiegehen agreed to meet with officials after Lehr returned from vacation this week.

Economic development and redevelopment manager Joe McCarthy said he spoke with the owners twice Thursday to discuss the meeting.

"We understand how difficult this huge remodel is," McCarthy said. "It is the largest remodel project in the history of this community."

Fiegehen said earlier this week he would consider talking with city officials to continue the project only if they proposed making changes to city procedures that would benefit all builders doing renovation projects of this size. If they just wanted to offer special treatment, he wasn't interested, he said.

"We're going to continue to try to provide our services while helping them meet the requirements and codes," McCarthy said. "We're not looking to give them special treatment."

Lehr said last week struggles with the city about the demolition of another property they owned, the Capital Motel on Fifth Street, was the "final straw" that caused the two to decide to abandon the Ormsby House project. The city required the owners to cap the sewer connection at the main on Carson Street instead of underneath the building, adding cost and state permits to the project, Lehr said.

"That doesn't sound like a big thing, but it is," Lehr said Friday. "This requires several engineering drawings, permits from (the Nevada Department of Transportation), more permitting from the city -- all of which in my estimate adds another $25,000 to take the old, decrepit motel down."

The demolition permit for the hotel was ready Thursday, giving owners the go-ahead to proceed, but no one has come to city offices to pick it up, Herrington said.


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