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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
If 58 experts were to say tear a place down and start over again, that’s just what most would do, however reluctantly.
But Corey Lynn and Carter Ward are not most people.
The two have been working the past year to save the Central Plaza Hotel, a place that has 62 years of history in downtown Cheyenne.
Lynn, who often spent summers or weekends in Cheyenne with her grandparents, remembers when the property served railroaders, who would walk up from the depot with an overnight bag.
“This is where they would lay over on their train job,” Lynn said. “Back in the day, the property had a package liquor store, and the railroaders took full advantage of that.”
In fact, they took a little too much advantage of both the liquor store and the hotel’s nightclub. So much that Union Pacific told the hotel’s owners to shut the package liquor store down.
When they refused, Union Pacific commissioned the Oak Tree on Dell Range for a new layover spot, shuttling its workers back and forth.
“And really, ever since then, this property just fell into a state of decline,” Lynn said.
Just In Time?
Lynn had her eye on the Central Plaza property for a long time before moving to buy it last March. The first time she tried to buy it four years ago, the financials just didn’t work.
She really liked the owners, though, so she kept in touch with them. Eventually, when the time came, the owners — now friends with Lynn — asked if she still wanted to buy them out and take over the hotel.
She did, but after 10 years of flipping some 400 homes, Lynn could see that the Central Plaza Hotel project would be a new level of difficulty.
There were balconies falling off the building and large chunks of concrete in danger of just crumbling away.
Signs on each of the guest room doors warned occupants not to use the air conditioner and blow dryer at the same time or a fuse would blow.
To Lynn, this was a clear sign that things were not right behind the drywall. And if a big thing like that was not right behind the drywall, she knew there would be other problems.
Likely, many others.
The underground parking garage, meanwhile, was falling in on itself, and the basement appeared to be jam-packed with anything and everything that had once been in the hotel and discarded, going back to its construction in 1961.
It was a disaster.
But Lynn also remembered a different time and place when the hotel was vibrant and young.
“When I was a kid, I rode in the parade all the time, and I have vivid memories of coming right here,” Lynn said. “And there were lots of sober — and some very drunk – people hanging off the balconies, but the energy, just kind of emoting from here, was, even as a kid, I’m like, ‘Wow, I want to go there.”
Her head knew it would be difficult, but her heart insisted.
The Central Plaza Hotel just had to be saved.
Required More Than Hope
But Lynn wasn’t naive about her heart’s desire, and she knew her limitations.
“It’s not as easy as it looks on television,” she said about renovating properties. “And sometimes people’s hope maybe exceed their ability.”
That is what she feels had happened to the previous owners, who she described as wonderful people with a fabulous vision; one that had just never materialized despite 20 years of ownership.
Saving the Central Plaza Hotel, she realized, was going to take more than just a grand vision and a hopeful heart. It was going to take money — $5 million. And she was going to need expertise beyond any she had yet acquired.
So she called Ward, who she’d worked with in the past on a few home-flipping projects, lifting concrete foundations that had settled.
“I’m thinking about buying this hotel,” she told him. “But all this concrete is just falling down, and I don’t know what to do.”
Ward came over to inspect the place. Lynn watched with dread, afraid he was going to tell her the worst.
Instead, he told her he’d always wanted to be part of a project like this that could help Cheyenne’s downtown build business and community.
“It was a God thing,” Lynn said. “And I said, ‘Well, thank God you do, because I can’t do this by myself, and nor do I want to.’”
Tear It Down
In the beginning, though, it looked as if there might not be a way to save the hotel property after all.
Ward consulted no fewer than 58 experts on the best way to save the crumbling structure, and was told again and again to just tear it down.
Finally, he found one engineering consultant who was encouraging and said, “You know, I think we can help you get this done.”
The process they arrived at was to essentially use a highly durable carbon fiber wrap to girdle up the existing concrete and repair it. The consultant drew up a plan for each problem spot. There were a lot of them, especially the corners.
“The carbon fiber wrap is kind of like wallpaper,” Lynn said. “And so, he said on this particular corner you need 10 pieces, 3 inches wide and 8 feet long.”
The existing concrete in each trouble spot was sanded off to prepare it for the fiber wrap and ensure a tight seal. Then, the fiber wrap was laid on the concrete according to the engineering plan, which mapped out exactly where each piece needed to go.
“They put this coating over the top of it that sucks it all in,” Lynn said. “So that’s what brings it back to its original integrity. So, if there were weak spots in here, now it’s just pulled it all together.”
The material is extremely durable, Ward added.
“It’s not indestructible, but it’s stronger than the rebar, what’s inside the concrete,” Ward said. “It’s going to last at least another 100 years.”
Random Moments Of Sheer Panic
The first home Lynn flipped was her grandparents’. An uncle had owned the place for a time and had been unable to really take care of it because of some health issues.
When Lynn started reconstruction work on that house, people told her to tear it down, but she couldn’t.
“It was always a great place to go when we stayed at my grandparents’ house, because it was downtown,” Lynn said. “It was, you know, bustling, and you could ride downtown to get ice cream. So it was, I loved the house. I loved my grandparents.”
She still loved it, even though it was in terrible shape. Dozens of mice were living behind the paneling and had eaten through the electrical wiring.
“It was just going into a total state of disrepair,” Lynn said. “It didn’t have any working bathrooms.”
There were black widow nests, big holes in the roof and so many other problems too numerous to mention.
The hotel, in some respects, reminded Lynn of saving her grandparents’ home. At that time, she’d had no experience flipping houses, running construction crews. The only thing she knew was that she just had to save her grandparents home, somehow, some way.
“Carter and I say that anyone who hasn’t taken on a big project will never really know what we’ve gone through,” Lynn said. “I mean, tears, and just pressure and panic. I mean some moments of just sheer panic, (like) when we’re standing in the parking lot and a three-foot circle of concrete fell off. Sheer panic.”
But the panic has been balanced out along the way by people coming into the restaurant to tell them little pieces of the hotel’s history.
“It’s amazing the stories that people will come into the restaurant and tell,” Ward said. “It’s a great time for people to just chat about when they used to work at the Camelot Lounge.”
One night, a couple came in celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary.
“They met right there out in the lobby when it was a nightclub,” Lynn said.
Moments like that have helped Ward and Lynn through what has been, at times, a harrowing experience.
“I think what those moments do is sustain us through those really panic moments to say, ‘Look how far we’ve come,’” she said. “’Look at these people we’ve met. We can get to the finish line.’”
Future Looks Bright
With a game plan for saving the structure, Ward and Lynn can now plot a new future for the hotel, one that will return its prior vibrancy in Cheyenne.
They’ve opened a restaurant downstairs, Paris West, which highlights a historical tidbit about Cheyenne, which was Union Pacific’s longest stop.
“A lot of fancy things popped up,” Lynn said. “The opera house, a social club, and so reportedly people said Cheyenne is so fancy, it’s like Paris.”
The restaurant has a new chef and the menu has recently undergone an expansion. Among the new items is a highly popular smash cake.
“If you come for any celebration, we have a big chocolate dome out there and it has a mallet,” Lynn said. “So, you know, if it’s your birthday and you smash the chocolate dome, there’s a surprise in there.”
Thirty-five of the extended-stay rooms have been completed, and the remaining 42 rooms are expected to be finished within a couple of months.
The hotel is three weeks away from finishing an indoor dog park, which will feature an activity area for dogs. There will be a grooming station as well where dogs may be dropped off, and owners can order a drink or hamburger while they’re waiting.
“My thing is, I love Cheyenne,” Lynn said. “We both love Cheyenne. And sometimes it’s easier to just tear something down. But when you think about it, you know, every house has a story. Every property has a story.”
And if Lynn has her way — and 400 houses later she usually does have her way — every property can have a second, new life that’s just as vibrant, if not more so, than before.
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