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Owner hopes to replace it with similar building, 'but Louisiana style'
CANNELTON - The historic Sunlight Hotel in Cannelton will be knocked down beginning Tuesday, and its owner hopes to replace it with something more grand to lure visitors to the city from miles around.
Cannelton leaders' attitude toward renovation of the Sunlight Hotel seemed to have changed after the mostly-new city administration took over at the beginning of the year, but the man responsible for it expressed Wednesday optimism his project will go forward.
"Cannelton needs this project," then-Mayor Melvin McBrayer said in October 2006. Calling the hotel renovation "something the city needs," he pointed out owner John Paulin "is not asking for a dime; I think it's a great project."
Only then-Councilman Steve Bennett, who objected to bringing "more sin in, more alcohol" to the city, and Bill Shaneyfelt, city attorney at the time, recommended against designating the property a riverfront development area, which would help Paulin secure a liquor license.
"I finally got one Jan. 5," Paulin said Wednesday of the alcohol permit, explaining tax issues contributed to its delay.
The new city administration assumed their offices at the first of this year. Their first public mention of the hotel came in a public-works-board meeting Feb. 18, when Building and Codes Inspector Bruce Myers said he'd like to send letters out to people in violation of a property-appearance ordinance, including the Sunlight Hotel's owner.
Paulin said he agrees that the city leaders need to take action against violators, but wondered whether owners of several buildings whose walls or roofs are collapsing have received repair demands.
"They are forcing people to fix up or tear down their buildings, but I was already doing that," Paulin said.
He realizes his place had become a hazard, but other properties have sagging windows and floor joists that are "laid over flat," he said. "And these are places that are open for business."
Paulin's building will be torn down, Myers revealed in a works-board meeting April 14. He said Paulin had applied for a demolition permit and razing will begin Tuesday.
M&R Backhoe will tear the building down, haul its wood to a landfill and its bricks to the hotel parking lot for salvage. Part of the basement will be filled and the remaining hole will be fenced, Myers explained.
M&R owner Matt Finley said Thursday he plans to begin the demolition at about 7 a.m. Tuesday.
City attorney Chris Goffinet said he'd draft a letter to Paulin assigning responsibility for a damaged sidewalk to the hotel owner. High winds knocked part of the structure onto an adjacent sidewalk and street in October.
"He may repair (the sidewalk) with old brick from the building," Myers said.
"It was a little bit of a setback," Paulin said of the wind damage. "As of now, I have another set of plans drawn up, and I need to sit down with the new mayor and council."
Paulin said once his hotel is reopened, "it won't be a drinking place; it will be an upscale place." But the ability to serve liquor is necessary to his success, he said, because many people going out for an evening want to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with their dinner.
Paulin said his marketing plan shows people will come from within a 35-mile radius. That circle includes Indiana cities such as Jasper, Huntingburg and Boonville, and Owensboro, Ky.
In addition to catering to adults, Paulin plans to offer space for teens and clubs, and activities for different holidays.
"The building I've had designed is awesome," he said. "It will face Washington Street, and kind of looks like the Sunlight, but Louisiana style."
He hopes to open a parking area on the river side of the floodwall and dock a riverboat nearby.
If it's going to happen, it will happen this year, Paulin said. "It will be a new building or an empty lot. I have about $400,000 in it. It needs to move forward or I need to move forward somewhere else."
The developer realizes some people will hate to see the old building come down.
"It's part of their identity," he said. "They remember how nice, how elegant it was. That's how it will be, but on a bigger scale."