Council approves balcony addition at former Commercial Hotel

Move helps Elora couple advance plan to restore historic buildings in the village

ELORA – Don Kogen couldn’t be more pleased that Centre Wellington council is allowing he and his wife Kristy Hillis to add a balcony to the former Commercial Hotel at 43 Mill St. W. in Elora after originally being turned down.

Hillis grew up in Elora and her roots go back several generations. But she is known internationally as Kat Florence, the designer of fine jewelry.

The couple has purchased several historic properties in the village and has a $30-million plan to restore them to their original beauty.

Recreating original balcony

For the old hotel, the plan includes turning the second and third storeys into apartments, with ground level commercial space.

The balcony overlooking Mill Street West once was a prominent feature of the streetscape and one the couple wanted to reintroduce as they restored the space. 

It was removed between 1930 and 1943 and has been a missing attribute for some 80 years.

But because there are a lot of services buried under the sidewalk – water, hydro and so on – the township denied that request, so it was back to the drawing board for Hillis and Kogen.

Their architect drew up new plans, engineering support beams into the wall of the building to create a cantilevered system that negates the need for support posts. 

Should a water main burst, the decorative posts on the sidewalk can be removed, the sidewalk dug up and the balcony remains intact.

The couple must sign an encroachment agreement with the township for this purpose.

This is just one more hurdle for the pair as they bring their plan to life.

“For us it’s about preservation and bringing it back to what it looked like. So the balcony was really important to us,” Kogen said.

He sat down with the Advertiser, pulled out some blueprints and talked about the plan for downtown Elora and how it’s shaping up.

New acquisitions

Last month they purchased Francis Lane from the township. 

It’s no more than a driveway, really, between Mrs. Greenway on Metcalfe Street and the Green Space at the corner of Mill and Metcalfe, but Kogen said they will tear up the asphalt, put down cobblestone and create a walkway that will continue behind the Gorge Cinema and come out on Mill Street West between the former Commercial Hotel and the Elora Mews.

Kogen said it will be a pedestrian walkway but could also be a venue for art shows and outdoor markets. 

He estimates that along with the purchase of the laneway ($160,000) this project will cost almost $500,000.

As well, he and Hillis recently purchased the Dalby House, the triangular building where Geddes and Metcalfe streets meet.

Work at the former Commercial Hotel in Elora is extensive, but should be completed this year. Submitted photo

The previous owner had planned to turn it into apartments but found that in such an old building, it was expensive to maintain.

“He was struggling with 10 per cent interest rates. We reached out and bought the building,” Kogen said.

They plan to convert it to a high-end hotel.

“We know there’s a demand for affordable residential housing but with eight apartments, the Dalby House could never be that,” Kogen said.

“But a high-end luxury hotel will cater to the people who want to come to Elora and spend (money).”

There will be no changes to the exterior of that building, but inside, renovations will soon begin. 

It will be posh, extremely high-end, and Kogen said the Kat Florence Hotel is expected to open in 2025.

The Kat Florence Beautification Team

Kogen said they have an annual budget of $250,000 for their beautification projects.

As well as restoring their buildings, the couple wants them to shine.

Nick Preisenhammer of Gladiator Pro Wash was hired to install outdoor lights at Christmas and all the Kat Florence properties have lights that highlight the unique windows, roof lines, and stone features of those buildings.

Sarah Russell, of Well Rooted Gardens, is taking care of the greenery, flowers, and special decorations outside the buildings throughout the year.

“This year will be a big season for me,” she said in an interview. “They give me free range with creativity.

“I love that I can put my stamp on it. And it’s pretty great for the town.”

As well as Christmas and Valentine’s Day, expect to see outdoor décor at these buildings at Easter, Canada Day, throughout the summer, and through an arrangement with Sensational Elora, they will feature artist Tim Murton’s monsters during Monster Month.

Interior work at the old Commercial Hotel in Elora is progressing. This building will house ground level commercial space with four apartments in the two storeys above. Submitted photo

“Kat and Don are interested in the history and restoration of these buildings, and I feel the same way,” Russell added.

Kogen said the beautification project is to highlight their own buildings but also to encourage other shops to put their own stamp on the downtown core.

“We decided the best thing to do is to lead by example,” Kogen said.

“So, in putting up the lights, we put up a white canvass, so everyone can do what they want at their own space, and it all looks great.”

The Elora BIA has authorized the beautification team to take on the Green Space at Christmas this year as well.

Kogen said they will light up the evergreen trees in the Green Space at Christmas and add other features to activate the space.

“Kat might even arrange for Santa to show up,” he said with a grin.

Kogen said the couple’s motives are pure.

They want to restore the historic buildings, make them beautiful and add to both the local economy and the sense of community that makes Elora unique.

“Elora is already cute and has a great community,” he said.

“The only way we get involved in a building is if it’s historical. 

“We want to add value to the community. That’s the long view; that’s what we want to do.”