Julie Langan had been waiting years — decades, even — for the news that came this week.
Bath County’s iconic Omni Homestead Resort, which has played host to 23 U.S. presidents and countless weddings and corporate retreats and family vacations in its storied history, will get a $120 million, top-to-bottom makeover.
It will be the largest rehabilitation tax credit project in the history of Virginia, said Langan, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and state historic preservation officer.
“This is one of the most amazing projects that I’ve had a part in in my entire career, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Langan said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project.”
The renovation will not only freshen the resort’s 483 guest rooms and public spaces but will give equal care to the exteriors of the aging buildings: fixing brickwork, repainting wood trim, restoring limestone and terra cotta features and all 978 original wood windows.
While the site of the Homestead, which is rich with mineral springs, has hosted hotels and resorts since before the Revolutionary War, the buildings that currently house the resort date to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“We’re not talking about putting lipstick on a pig this time,” Langan said. “It’s not cosmetic. This is serious, serious rehab.”
It’s work that has been a long time coming, Mark Spadoni, managing director of the resort, said Monday during a news conference announcing the project. “While there’s been money put into this property over the last hundred-plus years, a lot of it has been on the inside,” he said. “The outside has been neglected and hasn’t had the opportunity to receive the tender loving care that it deserves.”
Langan put it more bluntly. “It was going to be too late if somebody didn’t step in pretty soon,” she said. The Homestead had been “the victim of deferred maintenance” until Omni stepped in, she said.
The hospitality company bought the Homestead in 2013 as part of a deal in which it also purchased four other properties, including the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina.
The resort, which is the county’s largest employer, will remain open during the renovations. All of the work should be complete in time for the 2023 summer season, Spadoni said. The exterior work, which will be managed by Complete Property Services of Tampa, Florida, is expected to take 16 months.
Almost every area inside the resort will be touched by the renovations, Spadoni said. The guest rooms will get upgraded Wi-Fi and refrigerators. Most furniture will remain, but it will be refinished. The pool complex will be expanded and a new family restaurant will open, while other eateries will get facelifts. A speakeasy-style lounge will be built behind the lobby bar. The theater will be reconfigured.
Among the new construction planned: a 4,000-square-foot event pavilion that will look down on the main resort buildings from the golf course, and a building in downtown Hot Springs that will house employees in 50 two-person units.
The project will qualify for state and federal historic tax credits, with oversight from Langan’s department and the National Park Service. Both agencies have signed off on preliminary plans submitted by Omni, Langan said.
About $64 million of the total expenditure qualifies for tax credits, according to Lynn Swann, director of marketing and communications at the Homestead. The federal tax credits cover 20% of eligible expenses, the state program 25%, Langan said. New construction doesn’t qualify for the credits, she said.
Work also is beginning on the resort’s Jefferson Pools bathhouses, which had fallen into disrepair and in 2017 were deemed unsafe and closed by Bath County. The natural hot springs had long been a draw for visitors, and Omni last year announced plans to renovate the structures. This summer the company said it had hired Roanoke’s Lionberger Construction Co. for the project.
The Homestead has been operating at about half capacity for the last year or so during the pandemic, with 230 to 250 of its rooms open and about 400 employees working, Spadoni said. By the time all of the renovations are complete, he hopes to have all of the rooms available and to return staffing to a pre-pandemic level of about 1,000 people.
“This is all about restoring a piece of American history,” Spadoni said.
Megan Schnabel is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.