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New owners began restoration of Hotel Thompson in 2019

122119 N DG Thompson Hotel S1.jpg
New boiler in process of assembly at The Thompson Hotel. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — A Worthington landmark will ring in 2020 with a renovation project that will restore the icon to its former splendor.

The Hotel Thompson has anchored Worthington’s 10th Street since Woodrow Wilson was president. The three-story hotel was designed to be the grandest from Mankato to Sioux City, Iowa, boasting a central lobby including shops, a telegraph office and ornate twin staircases up to guest rooms.

Including electricity and plumbing, Peter Thompson spent $56,000 on construction costs alone — the equivalent of nearly $1.5 million today.

Since its construction, commercial tenants have moved in and out countless times. The hotel was converted to apartments in the 1980s. Internet and phone connections have been added. While the bones remain, the layout of the Thompson is almost unrecognizable from its golden age.

The hotel-turned-apartment-complex is one of the last remaining original structures in town. Due to poor management, it has fallen into disrepair over the years.

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This time last year, the Thompson was in dire straits. Neglected and destined for foreclosure, the property had been turned over by Wells Fargo to Lighthouse Management in a receivership.

Concerned about the welfare of Thompson residents, the city of Worthington had stepped in to bankroll pest remediation and roof repair.

The process got as far as treatment for bedbugs and cockroaches and purchasing materials for the roof. Before roof construction could begin, however, Lighthouse Management decided to put the property up for sale by auction, prompting the city council to halt repair in favor of letting a new owner pay for construction.

In April, the city council took a tour of the Thompson to better understand its decrepit state. Finding mold and mildew and a patchwork roof — but thankfully no bugs — the city council felt roof repair was urgent and voted to resume work on it. However, just four days later, council learned that an interested potential buyer would prefer to fix the roof on its own dime, so again, the city told the contractor to stop working.

Through the summer, a number of potential buyers reached out to Lighthouse Management and made offers on the property. However, Lighthouse failed to make a deal with any of the parties, leading to an online auction of the Thompson.

The auction culminated in a September in-person bidding session. The Thompson was given another chance when Worthington natives Bob Buysse and Mitch Clark purchased the building and announced their plan to restore its original architecture.

As required by a city assessment, Lighthouse Management repaid the city of Worthington the approximately $183,000 the city spent trying to save the Thompson from destruction and protect its residents.

Sale of the property was finalized Dec. 9. The next day, work began on replacing the defunct boiler — of prime necessity because the commercial businesses can’t operate without heat, but the old boiler emitted carbon monoxide when in operation. Heat was expected to restart by Dec. 23.

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After the boiler, the next most urgent priority is replacing the roof, after which the remainder of the renovation will begin.

Buysse said he and Clark are still working to finalize plans, but they will definitely include “opening up the lobby and trying to put it back more closely to what it was at one time.”

For example, the original grand staircases are intact, but they are hidden behind drywall that was installed in the process of conversion to apartments. Crews are working to locate the staircases in order to expose and restore them.

In addition to the lobby, both residential floors and all commercial space is slated for renovation. Buysse and Clark have planned two years for the construction process.

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