Construction Begins on Hotel in Ashtabula’s Historic Harbor Area

ASHTABULA, Ohio – Construction is under way on a 45-room hotel in the historic harbor district that aims to become a tourism destination.

The $11 million hotel is expected to open in June 2023, according to Larry Laurello, one of the three co-owners.

The five-story River Bend Hotel and Suites, as it will be called, will feature a rooftop bar and event space that will offer a panoramic view of the Ashtabula River and Lake Erie.

Laurello said the hotel will be distinctive in its décor and will complement the existing shops, bars, restaurants and breweries in the restored buildings of Bridge Street.

“It will be good for the area, another step in the progression of Bridge Street,” Laurello said. “For the last 15 or 20 years, the people of Ashtabula have made the area into a little jewel. We are elevating it, offering a place for people to be spectators to the beauty of Ashtabula. Guest can look down on the harbor and watch everything go by.”

The other principal owners are Todd Canter, a North Kingsville native and Baltimore resident who is the former Asia Pacific CEO of LaSalle Investment Management and a land developer on the East Coast; and Pete Huggins, owner of Iten Industries of Ashtabula, on whose land the hotel sits.

The hotel will be on Goodwill Drive, just south of Bridge Street, directly behind the Bascule Bridge Café. It will have about 15 full- and part-time employees, Laurello said.

The idea was first proposed by Canter about four years ago. The groundbreaking was repeatedly delayed because of the pandemic.

Laurello, who owns Laurello Vineyards in Geneva and Delta Railroad Construction in Ashtabula, explained how it started.

“[Canter] went to the city manager of Ashtabula and said, ‘I want to do something transformative for the community, make an investment,” he said. After deciding that a hotel would serve that purpose, he teamed up with Laurello and Huggins.

“Originally, it was going to be halfway up Bridge Street, across from the parking lot,” Laurello said. The site was changed to take advantage of the water view.

The hotel will be “a destination, and all of the [surrounding businesses] will benefit from it,” Laurello said.

River Bend Hotel will be part of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, the world’s largest hotel franchising company, although Wyndham signage will not appear on its exterior and only minimally inside, Laurello said.

It will be part of Wyndham’s elite Trademark Collection, a portfolio of 150 hotels designed for travelers “seeking distinctive, attainable accommodations in sought-after destinations,” according to the company’s press information.

The Trademark Collection by Wyndham is the company’s first brand geared to three- and four-star hotel owners “who are passionate about upholding their hotels’ independent spirit.”

River Bend Hotel will be managed by Emerald Hospitality of Westlake and operated under a long-term franchise agreement with Wyndham.

“We are delighted to bring this transformational project to fruition,” Canter said in a press release from Wyndham. “I am grateful for the resiliency of my partners and a host of others who made it possible to get this hotel under construction.”

Canter said the rooftop bar and event center “will be unequaled and will offer the best views of the harbor and the lake in the region.”

The hotel will take advantage of its proximity to the Grand River Valley winery region and the county’s famed covered bridges.

It will “beautifully merge post-industrial influences with modern amenities, Midwestern hospitality and world-class luxury,” according to the press release.

The hotel will include a lobby café that will offer a selection of local provisions, fresh baked goods, specialty coffee and tea and snacks.

Laurello said regional wines will be featured at the hotel, with tastings planned for the rooftop space.

The rooftop space will be enclosed with glass walls, Laurello said, that can be raised in the summer for an open-air experience. It will accommodate up to 200 people.

“You will be able to hear the harbor,” he said. The famed lift bridge, which is raised for boat traffic at regular intervals, is just steps away.

The initial plans do not call for a restaurant in the rooftop bar,  although that could happen in the future, Laurello said.

Several parking lots will be built around the property to accommodate guests.

“There will be more than enough parking,” he said.

While April to October is the peak winery and tourism season, Laurello expects the hotel to remain busy year-round.

“Winter is just as gorgeous as summer,” he said. “The snow is part of the fun. [Winery-goers] are the target audience, but the rooftop bar has room for about 200, so we can have weddings, parties, a tasting bar for local wines, and groups.

“It will be every bit as much of a destination as the Lodge at Geneva on the Lake.”

Jim Timonere, Ashtabula city manager, expressed his gratitude to the hotel developers.

“I am truly grateful that Larry Laurello, Pete Huggins and Todd Canter are willing to invest in the City of Ashtabula,” he said in a press release. “The Riverbend Hotel project is a much-needed addition to our historic harbor and will transform tourism to Bridge Street.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.