MILTON — A hospital built during the Great Depression to care for disabled children is on track to begin its new role as a resort hotel by this time next year, according to its developer.
“We should have the hotel open by the fall of next year, and our golf course ready to go next spring,” said Jeff Hoops, owner-developer of the Grand Patrician Resort, taking shape on the grounds of the former Morris Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children just east of Milton.
The former hospital is perched on a gently sloping 186-acre campus once used to graze dairy cattle and nourish an orchard that produced apples, pears and cherries for patients and staff.
Commuters on Interstate 64 about 1.5 miles east of the Milton exit can glance south of the freeway and see an army of more than 50 construction workers converting a portion of the former farmland into a golf course and transforming the 81-year-old hospital into a 109-room hotel.
Hoops, a resident of Milton, said the new inn will be affiliated with Wyndham Hotels. Each of the golf course’s nine holes is designed to replicate iconic holes at renowned courses from around the globe and will be equipped with artificial turf greens and tee areas.
Much of the new hotel is taking shape within the locally quarried blue-white limestone walls of the old hospital, built between 1936 and 1939.
The U-shaped building with Y-shaped wings provided 80,000 square feet of living quarters, classrooms and therapy space for its 120 residents — most of them victims of childhood polio. It was the largest public-works project built in West Virginia by the Works Progress Administration, a federal agency created as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited the hospital in September 1939, wrote that the local laborers hired by the WPA to construct the facility had created “a monument of which they should well be proud,” and described a therapeutic swimming pool there as “the most delightful I have ever seen.”
More than 10,000 children received treatment at the hospital before an effective vaccine for polio became widely available in the 1950s, gradually making the hospital’s mission obsolete. The building closed as a children’s hospital in 1960, then reopened in 1961 as Morris Memorial Nursing Home, a geriatric facility. The building has been vacant since the nursing home ceased operations in 2009.
In 2017, Hoops and his wife, Patricia, entered an agreement with the city of Milton, which owns the property, to build the resort hotel on the site.
Since then, the building has been stabilized, cleared of asbestos and debris, upgraded to meet modern codes, fitted with new windows and roof tiles, and is now ready for drywalling. A new four-story portico is taking shape as part of a makeover of the main entrance to the building.
The hotel will include a 400-seat steakhouse restaurant, conference rooms, a 300-seat wedding chapel and a 500-seat ballroom, retail shops, two indoor pools, one of them Olympic-sized, and a 1930s-themed “speakeasy” bar in a tunnel that connects the two wings of the original building.
Hoops said the hotel will include a small museum containing artifacts, photos and documents telling the story of the Morris Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children, where his aunt was once a patient.
A second phase of development planned for the site includes a second hotel, a series of baseball/softball diamonds and soccer fields suitable for tournament and touring-team play, hiking, jogging and equestrian trails, and a 3,500-seat outdoor arena patterned after the Roman Coliseum.
Also planned are three gated residential areas serving 200 new houses.
Hoops said building a hotel during a pandemic in which national occupancy rates have fallen by 30% or more involves more than a little risk. But if construction proceeds as planned and the COVID-19 threat diminishes, “I think this will be a very busy place. The amenities we’ll be offering will draw people here.”
And the atmosphere will be more casual and less pricey than regional luxury resorts, he added.
“We’re building a Greenbrier for the middle class,” Hoops said.
Hoops said the city of Milton, Cabell County Commission and state government stepped up to help launch the project. Cabell County authorized $10 million in Tax Increment Funding revenue bonds for the development, while the West Virginia Development Office qualified the Grand Patrician to receive Tourism Development Act tax credits.
Hoops is the former president and CEO of Blackjewel, a coal company with operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Wyoming, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last July. Among Blackjewel-affiliated companies included in the bankruptcy petition is Revelation Energy LLC, which operated the KD#2 surface mine adjacent to Kanawha State Forest until it was ordered to permanently cease production by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail
.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer