Historic Hotel Sieting Saved

KALKASKA – For some 20 years, Jeff Sieting has had his eye on the building in Kalkaska that bears his name. The historic Hotel Sieting, built in 1912 by his great-great grandfather's brother, has sat vacant since the mid-80s, growing more dilapidated with each passing year. He had always dreamed about buying it, restoring it to its former glory, but the price was always too high.

Recently though, in the midst of one of the worst real estate markets in recent history, Sieting – the president of the Village of Kalkaska and owner of Liberty Gumball & Candy Machine Co. – got his chance. He made an offer and is now the new owner of the historic building. He hopes to make it the cornerstone of economic revitalization in downtown Kalkaska.

Sieting's plan? To renovate the place in a series of phases, opening each finished section for business as it's finished. That way, he says, the project will begin generating revenue early on to help pay for ongoing work.

Phase I is focused on the restoration of the two-story front deck area. It's an important first step, he says, because it'll show the community, as well as passers by, that the project is not only doable but also a beautiful addition to Kalkaska's struggling downtown.

In Phase II, Sieting plans to open a woodshop and showroom on the ground floor, where he will house Liberty Gumball & Candy Machine Co. – purveyor of custom-built vintage gumball and candy machines – as well as sell other furniture he crafts himself.

Eventually, as more of the space is renovated, Sieting hopes to move additional tenants into the building and Liberty Gumball & Candy Machine Co. into the building's basement.

Phase III will result in the opening of a '50s-style diner, which Sieting hopes will feature the very same soda fountain that once graced the hotel. Sieting found the fountain in the basement of the town's old drugstore, and he's in negotiations to purchase it from its current owners.

Development of the main floor will continue with Phase IV, which will include an open area featuring a barbeque eatery and outdoor smokers.

Sieting's vision is to create a space that will allow visitors to step back in time to Kalkaska's heyday in the 19th century. "We want it to have an 1800s boardwalk feel to it," Sieting says.

Ultimately, Sieting hopes to construct the space so that it will feel like many buildings within the building, each housing a shop or a café. Tables in a common area will display artistic renderings, historic photos and other artifacts from Kalkaska County's past.

Indeed, history, specifically his own family history, was what drove Sieting to take on the project. His family arrived in the area in 1871, and played a substantial role in the local economy.

Though Sieting himself was gone for a while, living in California for some 20 years, he says his experience out West – specifically, spearheading the renovation of an old granary into a mixed-use building with retail, office, and residential spaces – makes the future renovation of the Hotel Sieting look significantly less daunting.

The building has had three different owners since it became vacant in the mid-80s. All three failed to realize their plans. Sieting says that while the building's recent track record certainly gave him pause, he studied it a lot over the years, and thinks he's learned from the previous owner's mistakes. "Plus," he says, "Me and my crew can do 90 percent of the work ourselves, which is a big advantage."

Sieting aims to finish the project in four years, though he says that he knows aspects of the plan might change as things proceed – such as the space upstairs he'd planned first to be residential units and now is considering making retail and office space instead.

For now, Sieting says he's shooting for a grand opening on Thanksgiving, 2012 – a significant date, as it'll mark exactly 100 years after his ancestor opened the original hotel. BN