The Historic Kensington in Norfolk will return to its hotel roots with redevelopment project

June 22, 2023, 9:30 a.m. ·

Kensington Norfolk
The outside of the Kensington building in Norfolk, Neb. The historic building will be redeveloped by Ho-Chunk Capital to become a hotel. (Photo by Sarah Lawlor/Nebraska Public Media)

Nearly a century after the Kensington opened as the Hotel Norfolk, the building will become a hotel once again.

Ho-Chunk Capital is leading a redevelopment project to turn the historic Kensington into a boutique hotel. The building will have 62 rooms. Construction for the project starts later this year with a projected completion of January 2025.

The Kensington began as a hotel when it first opened in the late 1920s. Since the 1960s when the hotel ceased operations, it has been apartments and an assisted living center. Most recently, the Norfolk Housing Agency used the building as low-income housing.

Gary Bretschneider, executive director of the Norfolk Housing Agency, said they would need to raise rent to afford updates to the building. The agency decided to sell because it could no longer be low-income housing.

The agency received two proposals and chose Ho-Chunk Capital because of its reputation for redeveloping buildings.

“They’re just amazing what they’ve done — Ho-Chunk has done — for groups, so we’re pleased that we were able to select them for this,” Bretschneider said. “It was an answer to our prayers.”

Bretschneider said Ho-Chunk Capital was hoping to keep as much of the history of the building intact as possible. Ho-Chunk asked the housing agency to leave objects like the doorknobs and radiators. In the basement, there’s an old teal door that Ho-Chunk wants to repurpose somewhere else in the building.

“And that’s what they like trying to do, is to reincorporate things in the building,” Bretschneider said.

The redevelopment is estimated to cost over $14 million with $1.95 million in tax increment financing. Randy Gates, the city’s finance officer, said TIF helps projects like the Kensington redevelopment occur.

Typically, the redevelopment project will buy the TIF bond from a community development agency. That money then cycles back to them through property taxes as the value of the redevelopment increases. The redevelopers would continue to pay the property taxes for the original value of the building; the difference between the original tax and the increased property tax would go to the community development agency for the bond.

Ho-Chunk has not yet bought these bonds, but they are available for them to use.

Gates said the Kensington project will positively affect the economy in the Norfolk community as it starts bringing in visitors to downtown and its businesses.

One such business is 4th St. Sweets located across the street from the Kensington. Stephanie Fleming, co-owner of the sweets store, said she is excited for the hotel and hopes it brings more weddings along with more visitors to the area.

“All of these businesses are mom and pops or women-owned and I think having a hotel is going to shine a light on all of us down here and really create opportunities for everybody,” Fleming said.

Fleming said she hopes they consider adding a crosswalk or pedestrian signage from the hotel to the storefronts to make it safer and easier for hotel guests to cross the street.

MJ’s Gelato and More sits next door to 4th St. Sweets. Karen Carlsen, co-owner of the ice cream shop, was unsure of how the construction could affect their store short-term, but she said she is excited about the long-term effects the hotel will have on business.

“We love people,” Carlsen said. “I think the thing I’m most excited about is the people coming in from out of town.”

Bretschneider said the hotel will have a drop-off zone in front that will remove the turn lane currently there, but the construction won’t shut down the street when it occurs.

The Norfolk Housing Agency held several open houses for community members to visit the hotel one last time before the redevelopment. Bretschneider said many people shared stories from working at the hotel, and some even reconnected with old colleagues.

Bretschneider and the housing agency are excited to see Ho-Chunk Capital return the building to its historic roots as a hotel.

“It’s a busy avenue, it’s a busy place,” Bretschneider said. “It’s going to be a perfect location for a hotel. There’s just no way around that.”