From Motel to Hotel: Downstate developer reveals $5M reno of iconic Charlevoix spot

Renovating an iconic 1950s-style motel in Charlevoix and staying true to the original architect’s vision isn’t easy.  And it doesn’t come cheap.

Rendering by Shoreline Architecture and Design

Paul Silva, downstate businessman (and summer resident of Charlevoix), plans to invest around $5 million to dramatically update The Lodge, a square, two-story, 40-unit motel designed by local insurance agent, real estate developer and amateur architect Earl Young located at 120 Michigan Ave. in Charlevoix. Final transfer of the property is pending.

If and when the deal goes through, The Lodge, which opened in 1959 as the Weathervane Lodge, will be renamed The Earl in honor of Earl Young, who died in 1975.  And there will be one more name change: Silva told the TCBN that going forward, he will refer to The Earl as a hotel, not a motel.

“We’ll have a liquor license and a rooftop wine bar with a sweeping view of Lake Michigan,” he said. “To me, that’s more of an upscale boutique hotel experience.”

Young studied architecture for only one year before dropping out of the University of Michigan. He is best known for designing the 31 “mushroom” houses scattered around Charlevoix, which attract tourists eager to see the fairytale-like stone homes with the undulating roofs.

Once the deal is complete, Silva will shut down the hotel until spring 2019. He says it will take that long to realize his ambitious renovation plan, which includes removing the outdoor pool and updating the exterior features as well as all rooms.

The biggest change will be the addition of a third floor, something the Charlevoix city council and the town’s zoning commission have approved.

A Tricky Project

The trick is to do all of that while remaining true as much as possible to Earl Young’s quirky mid-century style, his use of native stone throughout, the one-of-a-kind fireplaces and the three stone turrets that give the place much of its charm. To find that balance between the old and the new, Silva has assembled a team of local interior designers, architects and hotel management experts.

The group works together in a cross-discipline manner that Silva said is essential for this kind of project.

“We’re fortunate we all have the same vision because this not only a hotel project but also part historic preservation,” he said.

He has hired Kathryn Kircher, owner of KLK Interior Design to remodel all rooms, hallways and common areas.

“We’re giving a nod to Earl Young’s mid-century architecture and being respectful of the existing bones of The Lodge,” she said. “At the same time, it will be like nothing else in northern Michigan –  edgy but rustic, modern and minimalistic, but with pops of the unexpected. I think the whole energy of the town will change.”

Kircher coordinates her interior design ideas with the other members of the team, which includes Silva,  Stafford’s Hospitality Inc. and Petosky-based Shoreline Architecture and Design.

Details are still to be worked out, but Silva expects Stafford’s will take on the role of hiring, training and managing staff; providing bookkeeping; and running purchasing and reservation services. (Stafford’s operates the Bay View Inn, Crooked River Lodge, Perry Hotel, Noggin Room Pub, Pier Restaurant, the Pointer Boat, numerous vacation rentals and, right across the street from The Earl and the Weathervane Restaurant, which is another Earl Young design.)

Why Buy a Motel?

Asked why he wanted to buy a hotel and take on such a lengthy and expensive remodel, Silva spoke first of his attachment to the Charlevoix area.

“We’ve been coming up here to our summer house for 20 years,” he said.

He also explained that buying and fixing up properties is in his blood. His firm, Silva Properties, owns some 600 rental units in Clawson, Fenton, Detroit, Grosse Pointe, Mt. Clemens, Royal Oak and Westland.

“So the size of the project isn’t intimidating to us,” he said.

Nonetheless, it is his first hotel.

“My wheelhouse up to now has been buying apartments and bringing them up to the best standards by installing stainless steel appliances, new baths, that kind of thing,” he said. “I don’t just put lipstick on them. It’s my mission.”

Silva has a degree in hotel management from the University of Massachusetts. Still, he acknowledged one aspect of the project is daunting: managing a hotel. That’s why he is working closely with Stafford’s Hospitality.

“They helped with consulting since the early stages, and I’ve been really impressed,” he said. “I like how they run their properties. They’ll run it as if it’s their own.”

Lots of Buzz

Silva and Charlevoix Mayor Luther Kurtz believe that such a major project will help Charlevoix.

“The town has plenty of condos, but it has a shortage of hotel rooms in town,” Silva said. “I think this will be a shot in the arm for the downtown and create some nice synergies with the businesses here. Hopefully, we’ll help increase foot traffic.”

Silva said his goal is to make The Earl the “first choice” for anyone staying downtown.

“I’m looking for a return here, of course, but my expectations on the financial side aren’t as high as I might expect on other deals. That’s because to me this is an exciting project and a way I can give back to the community,” he said. “The current owners, Tracy and Christine Sell, have been great stewards. But The Lodge had reached the point where it was time to tear it down or renovate.”

Mayor Lutz echoed Silva’s thoughts on how previous owners preserved the landmark.

“Now it’s great that someone wants to keep the early character and make it into a destination hotel,” he said.