The Baker Boys
May 27, 2014 12:57PM ● Published by 16560
By Christina Mlynski
These weekend warriors are on a mission to restore hope
In a town of 17,000 people, there’s no way you can miss it. Descending into Mineral Wells, it soars high at 14 stories tall, as the forest green hills add a fitting backdrop to its rustic elegance. While its exterior is tattered and hundreds of rooms have remained vacant for more than 40 years, the Baker Hotel is far from over.
“You can’t miss the Baker,” says Hunter Chase Capital Partners senior managing director Laird Fairchild. “You can see it from miles away, and anybody who drives through Mineral Wells for the first time, it peaks their interest. You feel that it’s still the lifeline to this town.”
It’s a love story that began 13 years ago for Fairchild and his partner/ financial advisor Chad Patton who saw an opportunity to breathe life and restore a piece of history located in Palo Pinto County. Taking an opportunity to use his father’s hunting lease, these weekend warriors have made Mineral Wells their home away from Southlake.
Dubbed “the South’s greatest health resort,” the Baker Hotel was known for its medical mineral baths, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a famous rooftop nightclub known as the Cloud Room. However, Mineral Wells has always been a boom/bust city since the Baker Hotel closed its doors in 1972 and Fort Wolters was deactivated in 1973.
Nonetheless, The Baker Hotel always made a point to catch Fairchild’s eye — and eventually his heart — considering he has been involved with real estate his entire professional career.
“I was kind of amazed at this beautiful building that was sitting here, vacant and boarded up in the middle of this town,” he says. “It clearly represented what, at one time, must’ve been the heart of Mineral Wells. My first thought was, ‘Well hell, if this hotel was thriving, then this town would be thriving.’”
Since then, this band of brothers has made it their moral obligation to revive the heart of Mineral Wells. Both knew this wasn’t going to be an easy road and the journey would feature countless hurdles and major setbacks. However, Fairchild and Patton put on their cowboy boots and got to work.
Six years ago, these local heroes developed a team, which also includes members from Thiel & Thiel and La Corsha Hopsitality Group. After assembling a group of developers, they put a plan in place to gather the necessary financing for this $56 million project — Fairchild says it’s been the most complicated capital state for a real estate project he has ever been involved in.
“A building this size has a rather substantial budget associated with renovating it,” he says with a chuckle. “Once it was completed, no matter what its use, it was going to be difficult to make the value of the completed project meet the required budget to renovate. So, we looked at how you could bridge that gap between ultimate value and renovation cost.”
Interestingly enough, there are no traditional investors or financing within the restoration of the Baker Hotel. The majority of the budget is made up of federal and state historic tax credits, federal new market tax credits and an foreign investor involvement with the EB-5 visa program, which allows overseas investors to capitalize on a project that creates jobs for a city to become viable. As all of these financial pieces start to assemble in the jigsaw puzzle of the Baker Hotel project, the remaining key is community funding.
Currently on the books is the 4B sales tax program that re-appropriates the sales tax dollars from the community or city’s general fund into an economic development fund. Mineral Wells residents are being asked to pull one-eighth of a cent from the 1.5 cents of regular sales tax and redirect that money towards paying off investors who purchase $4 million dollar bond to finance the hotel.
“There’s a lot of work ahead,” Patton explains. “Long and short is, we think we can bring this thing back to life. That’s pretty cool, and that’s why we’re doing it. We’ve never been in this thing from day one for any other reason except for that.”
If all goes according to plan, Patton and Fairchild are confident renovation can begin within the next six to eight months. Once the restoration begins, the project is set to be complete within 24 to 36 months.
“Were this a traditional business transaction, the project would’ve been shelved a long ago, but due to the persistence and passion Chad and Laird have for this project, we are here at the threshold of getting this project to move forward,” explains Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton. “We are nothing but complimentary about Laird, Chad and their team, who are obviously highly committed to our community.”
After the financial pieces are in place, the Baker Hotel’s resurrection will be decorated in “Palo Pinto Chic,” becoming a four-star destination spa resort and conference center. Additionally, the historic landmark will be the main destination spot for weddings, especially the Cloud Room, which received many celebrities back in its heyday, including Judy Garland, Lyndon B. Johnson and Clark Gable.
Filmmaker Kevin Pruitt became inspired by Patton and Fairchild’s passion and efforts, which prompted him to create a short film, “Ballad of the Baker.” The film documents their work in resurrecting of one of Texas’ most longed-for landmarks.
“I told them we have the power to change the course of Mineral Wells and get the word out so that the people of Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto County and even the state know this time, it’s the real deal,” he says.
As the street level door opens to the Baker Hotel, hundreds of pamphlets promoting this once roaring institution are yellowed and scattered on the floor. The sound of crunching glass and creaking boards becomes the establishment’s soundtrack as these caretakers walk through their pride and joy — the Baker Hotel. Ascending to the top of the hotel, Patton and Fairchild step out onto the deck of the Cloud Room to look out over Mineral Wells as a sense of pride and outpouring of passion consumes their demeanor.
“What Laird and I say repeatedly — we’ve been saying it for years — is that we have to stick this out,” Patton exclaims. “We’re really the only chance this hotel has, and we believe the community has to really turn the corner. We certainly have felt an obligation, a purpose. And we have certainly felt like it is our responsibility to do everything we can to turn over every rock, to hop over every hurdle to make this project happen.”