WITH the Shenango Inn, Sharon has “got nothing to lose,” to quote Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.
The hotel, which played host to a 1960 campaign stop by then-future-President John F. Kennedy, closed about 30 years ago. It operated as a personal care home until three years ago.
It’s been vacant ever since.
Empty buildings, especially ones as large as the Shenango Inn, pose significant problems for communities, especially in residential neighborhoods like the one that surrounds the Shenango Inn.
The longer the Shenango Inn remains unused, the more rapidly it falls into disrepair, inside and out. It’s a safety hazard, a dangerous but attractive nuisance at best and a firetrap at worst.
And there was very little prospect that anything would change until a pair of out-of-town developers expressed an interest in restoring the Shenango Inn as a luxury hotel.
Hector and Suzanna Schvartzman announced in September that they planned to purchase the Shenango Inn and invest $1.4 million in renovations.
But they have since said little else.
That was good enough for the Sharon Zoning Board, which adopted a variance that would allow the Schvartzmans to operate the hotel, located in a residential neighborhood.
But it hasn’t been sufficient for Sharon City Council, which voted Wednesday to authorize an appeal of the zoning board’s ruling, in spite of a threat that the developers would pull out if they did.
The Schvartzmans have not provided details —including a business plan — for the Shenango Inn development.
“There were a lot of questions that were left unanswered,” Council President Molly Bundrant said. “We asked for them to be answered. We had a public meeting for them to be answered and we got no answers.”
Bundrant’s efforts to protect the public are admirable.
However, we think Sharon would be playing with house money, to use a gambling expression, if it allowed the Schvartzmans’ deal to go forward. The city potentially has much to gain from the deal and almost nothing to lose.
Even though the Schvartzmans have been closed-lipped about their plans for the Shenango Inn, they operate hotels in Florida and Kansas, which is an encouraging indication that they know what they’re doing.
This isn’t a situation where an unscrupulous developer is taking over a beloved community asset with designs on draining its last assets and running it into the ground. This is a closed building turning into an eyesore.
City residents quoted in a Sept. 29 article in The Herald have said it already is an eyesore.
Sharon Councilman Carl Sizer said Wednesday that he was concerned the Schvartzmans might sell to an outfit that would turn the Shenango Inn into “a hotel that charges $25 a night.”
We think that’s unlikely. The cost of bringing the once-elegant hotel up to code would all but prohibit its operation as ultra-cheap lodging.
There are more plausible worst-case scenarios — that the Schvartzmans turn out to be fly-by-night investors, that they don’t have enough capital to finish the work necessary, that they might abandon the project partly finished, or that there is no market for a luxury hotel in the heart of the Shenango Valley.
If that happened, Sharon would have a large unused structure, falling into dilapidation in a neighborhood surrounded by family residences with children who might view the building as an an attractive hazard.
In other words, exactly what it has right now.