NEWARK -- The Longaberger basket building, vacated by the basket-maker in 2016 and saved from foreclosure in late 2017, will not become the luxury hotel announced 15 months ago.
It was Oct. 21, 2019, before the deadly coronavirus pandemic changed everybody’s expectations, when local dignitaries gathered inside the lobby of the iconic structure to hear plans to convert Dave Longaberger's dream creation into a hotel with 150 rooms, a restaurant and indoor pool.
Hotel owner-operator Ceres Enterprises canceled the project due to the impact of coronavirus on the company's finances, and the building is back on the market, available for $6.5 million.
Brandon Hess, partner and broker with Shai-Hess Commercial Real Estate, confirmed the latest twist in the ongoing saga of the world famous, seven-story, basket-shaped structure on Newark's east end, opened in 1997 by the late Dave Longaberger, founder of the Longaberger Company.
Hess said he has had many conversations with building co-owner Steve Coon, owner of Coon Restoration, about plans for the building, and the difficulty for Ceres Enterprises to fulfill its goal of converting the building into a hotel.
"With COVID, the hotel operator kind of backed out of that," Hess said. "There are plenty of other issues they’re going to have to deal with. It was going to fall well below their priority list. People aren’t staying at (hotels), not traveling.”
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported the state's leisure and hospitality industry lost 115,200 jobs, or 20%, from November 2019 to November 2020.
What will become of Ohio's big basket building?
The best use for the building will be its original purpose as office space, which will not require much interior work, Hess said. The remodeling to convert into a hotel had not begun, he said. Hess said he's already heard from interested parties.
“So far, it would be owner-operated, with potential to lease to a third party," Hess said. "It’d have to be 30 to 50 people initially."
The 180,000 square foot building once packed in 500 Longaberger employees, but those numbers dwindled as the company shrunk from its peak of a $1 billion company with more than 8,000 employees in 2000.
The building, modeled on the Longaberger medium market basket, has 75-ton handles, a 7-story atrium, 141-seat auditorium, multiple conference rooms, multiple loading docks and bays, warehouse and storage areas, 555-space paved parking lot and 25 underground parking spaces.
Since the company left its headquarters, many have commented on the deterioration of the building exterior and the surrounding grounds, which were once immaculate.
“As you can imagine, everybody wants to have an opinion," Hess said. "Please be patient and continue to support it. The building should be a tribute to (Dave Longaberger).
“I think that it won’t take much to clear the outside of the building, and the inside is gorgeous. The exterior needs painting. It’s a beautiful building. A great opportunity."
When the hotel announcement was made, Coon said he was committed to keeping the handles on the building. Hess said that commitment continues.
"The handles, that's what makes the building special and unique," Coon said in 2019. "This will stay a basket. It's going to be a basket forever. It's got the draw. This is a destination."
One common perception has been that the location, on the east edge of Newark, hurts marketing the building, and if it was on the other side of Newark, closer to Columbus, it would be more marketable.
“I think that’s changed a lot," Hess said. "The trend we’re seeing in commercial real estate is people wanting to get out of downtown Columbus. We see a tremendous opportunity with people wanting to get out of the Columbus market. The market is much better now than prior to COVID.”
The December 2017 sale of the building to Coon his business partner, Bobby George, of Cleveland, paid off what is believed to be the largest delinquency in county history, at about $850,000.
The Licking County Board of Revision reduced the building’s value from $8 million to $1.2 million in March 2018. Coon and George requested the reduction to lower their property taxes.
The Longaberger Company built the structure for $32 million. The building and surrounding property, once valued at $28 million, was valued between $12 million and $13 million for more than a decade until it was further reduced to $8 million on Jan. 1, 2017. Longaberger listed the property for $5 million in 2017.