|By Tim Bryant, St. Louis
Post-DispatchMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 05, 2011--When it reopens today, the venerable Cheshire Lodge will be, simply, The Cheshire.
The hotel near the southwest corner of Forest Park was frayed at the edges when it closed at the end of last year. More than six months and $8 million of renovation work later, the inn's distinctive Tudor-style architecture remains, but all 108 rooms are getting makeovers.
New owner Lodging Hospitality Management injected a British literary theme throughout. Each room carries the name of a British writer -- Joseph Conrad, Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle and so on. Accommodations include pool-side "novelty" suites: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Ian Fleming's James Bond and E.M. Forster's A Passage to India, said LHM's president, Steve O'Loughlin.
"It's been such a neat project," he said. "It's something we're extremely proud of."
LHM, based in Maryland Heights, paid the Apted family $4 million for the hotel and the adjacent Cheshire Inn restaurant, which closed in 2005. Counting the purchase price, LHM could eventually spend as much as $24 million on the project. Just the restaurant portion could cost $12 million, O'Loughlin said.
Much discussed in St. Louis restaurant circles is whether nationally recognized Tony's will be among the new Cheshire's eateries. Work could begin in weeks on three restaurant "venues," which might include Tony's. LHM remains "in conversations" with Tony's owner, Vince Bommarito, about relocating from downtown, O'Loughlin said. Bommarito has said the size of his current location at 410 Market Street forces him to turn down party business.
Talks are far enough along that the city has agreed to a partial sales tax rebate to LHM if Tony's moves to the Cheshire restaurant at the city's western edge. (The Cheshire's hotel portion is in Richmond Heights.)
St. Louis Alderman Scott Ogilvie, whose 24th Ward covers the Cheshire's restaurant portion, said the agreement would preserve for the city the approximately $120,000 Tony's produces now in annual sales tax revenue.
LHM projects that Tony's restaurant business could more than double at the Cheshire, Ogilvie said. As part of an incentive package St. Louis aldermen approved last month, the city would reimburse LHM half of the restaurant's sales tax revenue provided the city keeps at least the current amount.
The agreement specifies Tony's and its adjoining Anthony's Bar downtown but could apply to another "fine-dining" restaurant that occupies renovated space at the Cheshire, Ogilvie said.
"We had to ensure that whatever happens, the city is collecting at least as much sales tax as it was before," he said.
Ogilvie added Thursday that his support of the incentive is motivated by his desire to bring an empty building "back to life."
"I think this will be a vastly improved gateway to the city right at the edge Forest Park," he said.
Both the city and Richmond Heights have granted LHM property tax abatement on the project. The city also will allow the owner to charge customers a sales tax to help pay for parking and other improvements. Parking might be expanded to a small section of Clayton Avenue, but the street will remain open to traffic, Ogilvie said.
In addition to a "marquee" restaurant such as Tony's, the new Cheshire will have a breakfast place and a "gastropub," said O'Loughlin, adding that he hopes that work on the restaurant building will begin by early September. The hotel's Fox & Hounds Tavern, which is in the hotel, is scheduled to reopen Monday.
Key to LHM's pursuit of the project was the decision by Richmond Heights voters in November to defeat a hotel tax increase. LHM had said that approval would have increased the hotel's room tax to a business-killing 20 percent.
Hotel analyst Gary Andreas, owner of H&H Financial Group in Chesterfield, said The Cheshire should do well.
"When you look at its historical performance, given its less-than-average condition, it did OK then," he said. "This is a hotel people know about, and it gets a lot of repeat business."
To see more of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.stltoday.com.
Copyright (c) 2011, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.