The Grand Imperial reopened with elegant fanfare Saturday, and the force behind the revitalization, the Harper family, believes the hotel will draw more tourists to Silverton.
Despite blustery May weather, characters in Victorian dress and Silverton residents gathered with tourists in the lobby to tour the hotel and see its transformation.
“This is the rebirth of the queen of the San Juans,” said Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
He praised his son, Jim Harper, president of American Heritage Railway Hotels, for overseeing the remodel of the 1882 hotel on Greene Street in Silverton.
“My son, Jim Harper, who is my oldest son, has done an absolutely spectacular job being the leader of a big crew,” he said.
A company controlled by Al Harper bought the 40-room hotel last April for $1.6 million and renovations started this summer. The hotel closed for several weeks this spring for the remodel, and workers were putting the finishing touches on the building less than an hour before the first train of the season pulled in.
The work required $4.5 million, Jim Harper said. It included fixing the back wall, new plumbing and electrical and making 12 rooms usable again.
“This whole place was gutted,” said hotel manager Paula Bradford.
Jim Harper and his mom, Carol, designed the interior that features intricate wallpaper, striking red carpet and antique furniture designed to make the building feel like the 1880s. Modern conveniences remain, however, with Wi-Fi throughout the building and flat-screen TVs in every room
“We’ve got the opulence that people would expect ... but we’re a little more down to earth,” Bradford said.
The hotel is the key piece of the train’s new travel package, A Step Back in Time. People can ride the train to and from Silverton and stay in the hotel.
“It’s been my dad’s dream for the past 20 years to be in the hotel business,” Jim Harper said.
It’s also been well received so far.
Reservations are up 35 to 40 percent over the same time last summer, he said. The train and hotel were sold out Saturday.
The Harpers and Silverton residents believe the hotel can help make Silverton a more year-round destination and keep summer visitors in town later in the day.
Only a handful of shops stay open until 9 p.m. in the summer, but the hotel could help change that, said Scott Fetchenhier, a San Juan County commissioner and the owner of Fetch’s Mining and Mercantile.
“They will be a huge part of this county,” he said.
Full-time Silverton residents Laura DesPalmes and A.C. Neighbors said there are three major barriers to Silverton becoming a year-round destination – Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain passes.
But they were pleased to see the building revitalized.
“They have a done a beautiful job,” DesPalmes said.