West Baden Springs Hotel
The West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden Indiana is a perfect example of how Highest and Best Use determined the best use for the property was its first use, a hotel resort.
The property has a fascinating history. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1987. The original hotel opened in 1852. When the Monan railroad built an extension to West Baden Springs and French Lick, Indiana, in 1887, the area became a wildly popular tourist attraction because of the believed curative powers of local mineral springs. The hotel’s business boomed.
The resort structure suffered a few fires in its history, getting rebuilt after each one. After a fire in 1901, the hotel reopened to rave reviews. Its new domed structure was dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The hotel’s amenities included a casino, nightly live theater performances, opera, a stock brokerage, and a bank. Guests could also enjoy golf, horseback riding, bicycling, and baseball, and of course, the mineral springs. Several major league baseball teams did their spring training at the West Baden Springs hotel.
Business boomed in the early 1920s, but eventually, the invention of the automobile was slowly causing a decline in bookings. The 1929 stock market crash sealed the Hotel’s fate. It closed in 1932. Two years later, its owner donated the building to the Jesuits.
In 1966 the Jesuits sold the building to a couple who donated it to a Michigan business school. The property was sold again in the early 1980s, but it fell into disrepair when an investor declared bankruptcy.
Minnesota Investment Partners (MIP) bought the property with the intent of once again making it a resort and Casino. When legislation that would have allowed the Casino to operate failed to pass, Grand Casinos, Inc, a co-investor, walked away from the deal. Historic Landmarks of Indiana (HLFI) purchased the property for $250,000 in 1996.
Bill and Gayle Cook, a couple from Bloomington, Indiana, donated $35 million to stabilize and partially restore the building.
In 2003, gambling legislation and a local referendum passed, allowing the building restoration to proceed. The Cooks formed Blue Sky LLC to step up the planning process for the renovation. In 2003, HFLI deeded the property to the Cooks. The restoration was completed in 2007 for a price tag of $100 million.
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