The Ormsby House: Should it stay or should it go?
We are coming up on the three-year anniversary of the Ormsby House’s closure. It was October of 2000 when Don Lehr and Allan Fiegehen, who had bought the Ormsby House the year before and had been fighting with it all that time, decided that the best way to remodel the place would be to close it down and do a complete renovation. The closure was never supposed to last this long; they estimated that within nine months it would be ready to reopen. But they ran into troubles from the start, everything from structural problems with the building, to strained relationships with contractors, to tons of red tape to cut through with the city planning departments. That’s how we’ve ended up here, three years later, with the building gutted and only barely just starting to be put back together. The owners had said several times that it would have been cheaper and easier if they had torn down the building as soon as they bought it. But it was too late for that, they said. They had invested too much and they had to press on.
Well, apparently they can smell a money trap when they see one. I was nearly knocked out of my chair when I looked at the local newspaper this morning and read the front-page headline:
Owners Seek Ormsby Demolition
Well, this is a new development! I knew the owners were committed to renovating the place in the past; otherwise it would have been a pile of rubble by now. But I guess everyone reaches a point where they’ve had too much, and the owners finally reached it. Don Lehr was quoted as saying, “It’s kind of like if you bought a stock and it goes down. You’re smart if you just sell it and cut your losses. We’re cutting our losses.”
And cut their losses they will. Reportedly they’ve spent $8 million so far on the remodel. But looking at the state of the building, I’d say they still have at least that much to spend before they can reopen. Those costs might be similar to starting from scratch, so maybe they figure it’s time to throw in the towel and knock the building down.
I’m going to be sorry to see it go. Not just because I’ve spent this whole year following the remodel very closely, and put the effort into keeping track of it on these pages, but also because I’ve been looking forward to having it reopen. I’ve lived around Carson for over eighteen years. I’ve seen the Ormsby House go through many cycles, over half of its life. I watched it go through all the problems during the 90’s, and I saw it hit rock bottom, then start to rise a little bit. After everything it went through, it really deserved to ring in the new millenium in style. I felt like it was owed a new start, a second chance to shine. Now it seems like they’re not going to give it one. Of course, this might all blow over. They might have filed for the demolition permit for the same reason they got a permit to demolish historic Jack’s Bar, right across the street. They got that permit because demolition was one of the options they were looking at, and they needed to have a permit before they could start looking into the idea. So maybe the Ormsby House is the same way. Perhaps they aren’t a hundred percent convinced that demolition is the way to go, but they’ve kicked the idea around and they want to have all the permits in hand just in case. Although, the interviews given in the newspaper make it sound like they’re pretty determined at this point. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
And if it does get torn down, what to do with the property? The lot the Ormsby House sits on is a prime piece of land. At the corner of Carson and Fifth street, it sits right at the gateway to downtown, across the street from the state legislature building. It’s an excellent location, and it would seem wrong not to have an excellent hotel on that spot. I think they should rebuild it. I think that if they do knock down the building they’ve got now, they should build the next generation of Ormsby House, bigger and better than any that came before. The OH as it is now is an odd beast. It has its elegant features, but there are also parts of it that are drab and dated. 1972, after all, was by no means a high point in American architecture. The structure juts out at odd places, and some parts of it are too obviously later additions. The best parts are the features that harken back to an earlier age, like the old portecochere and the FakeDoors™. Presumably the renovation would have fixed up a lot of the crummy parts, but building from scratch would give them the freedom to give the place a unified design. A torn-down Ormsby House might prove to be even better than a remodeled one.
Anyway, all of this is speculation. Carson City officials seem skeptical that the owners actually will go through with the demolition. And as with any big plans like this, it’s sure to go through a few more changes as time rolls on. So this will be the story to watch this fall. There’s a chance that when 2004 dawns, the Carson City skyline will be very different than today.
Update: October 6, 2003
On Friday, October 3, the owners of the Ormsby House had a very successful meeting with Carson City officials, and all of their concerns were addressed. All of the obstacles the owners we frustrated with have been removed, and so the Ormsby House renovation is back on track. The demolition permits are going to be pulled, and the owners are once again committed to rebuilding the Ormsby House.
Personally, I think it was all a bluff by the owners. They never really intended to use the demolition permit, but it was an attention grabber and a powerful bargaining chip to use against the city. Those crafty dogs.
News articles on the demolition:
Owners plan to demolish Ormsby House — Nevada Appeal, September 27, 2003
Owners seek to demolish landmark Carson City casino — Reno Gazette Journal, September 27, 2003
City wants second chance to work with Ormsby House owners — Nevada Appeal, September 30, 2003
Carson officials make plea for Ormsby House — Reno Gazette Journal, September 30, 2003
Ormsby House owners had “first class” plans — Nevada Appeal, October 3, 2003
Ormsby House owners to proceed with renovation — Nevada Appeal, October 4, 2003