Written by: Audrey Sochor
If you’ve spent any time at all in St. Clair over the years you’ll have heard the locals despair of the shuttered, rundown inn, and more recently the buzz of excitement as construction crews work away to restore what was once the town’s crown jewel.
The excitement all started when Jeff Katofsky, managing member of Planet Clair LLC, a trial lawyer by trade and commercial developer by vocation, was brought to town by a piece of litigation where he and his partner, Rick Barreca, had an option to buy the property.
It was a cold but beautiful night in October 2015 when Katofsky first drove into the porte-cochere across the street from the St. Clair Inn. His eyes went wide open, and he was in love. “Since then I’ve spent so much time out here meeting the people and, you know, it’s not just a place, it’s a group of people,” he said. “The people are great.”
A native of San Fernando Valley, California, Katofsky has experience in the entertainment industry in addition to commercial development. Katofsky and his partner have developed multiple commercial buildings consisting primarily of retail, office and some living space in top-end areas of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.
“(The Inn) was sort of the next step,” Katofsky said. “My wife said in the game of Monopoly I’ve traded in my houses for hotels. Hotels make sense. If you think about what a hotel is, it’s a combination of residential and commercial. And so that was really the next piece.” The St. Clair Inn is currently on schedule to open in March of 2019 with 106 rooms, which is more than the inn had in the past.
Katofsky also said the style will be different and have lots of suites, as well as three cottages in the style of the old captain’s cottage that was torn down years ago. The inn will also feature five themed bars, multiple restaurants and more room for events and parties.
“The inn really is a big bed and breakfast, in a way,” he said. “It’s a big restaurant and bar that has a lot of rooms to it. And we’re adding the amenities that allow people to enjoy the whole aspect of it and expand themselves into St. Clair and the downtown.”
The St. Clair Inn used to be the center of town, not only from a business and economic standpoint, but a social one as well, Katofsky said. For all intentions and purposes the inn has been shut down for 12 to 15 years due to mismanagement and foreclosure, and he’s been told by local business people the significant effect that has had on their businesses.
He hopes bringing the inn back will be the “big B-12 shot” needed to jumpstart not just the community, but other businesses as well. Not only does he want to draw locals to the inn, he wants to make it a regional destination for people in Chicago and Detroit.
“Everybody has expectations,” he said. “I hope they’re high and we hope we meet them. I have really high expectations. My partner Rick has really high expectations. We really want to bring something people will be proud of and the people will talk about. Not just locally, but on a larger scale. And if we do that then we hope to revitalize St. Clair.”
Bringing the locals in after the inn’s completion isn’t enough for them, either. Katofsky and Barreca use as much local labor as they can, including trade positions, materials, contractors and the architect. They also get support from local government officials, community leaders and business people.
“Everybody is engaged in this project locally to help us get it done. It really does take a village and the support couldn’t be better,” Katofsky said.