It may have taken six long years filled with skeptics and naysayers, but when the last few lights clicked on at the historic Hotel Settles during Friday night's opening ceremonies, Big Spring native Brint Ryan looked a lot like the cat who ate the canary.
Ryan — joined by his wife, five daughters and hundreds of friends, family and guests — hosted a private reception at the downtown landmark, including a lighting ceremony where onlookers got to see the hotel lit floor by floor, leading up to the large, red sign atop the building.
And while the restoration and renovation of the Hotel Settles is certainly a business milestone for Ryan, it wasn't business or a bottom line driving the Big Spring native through the ceremony.
“I hope we've done well enough with this restoration that it's not just another old building brought back online, it's not just one more restoration project, but that it's a specimen, something so compelling that people will come from all over West Texas — probably all over Texas — just to see it,” Ryan said proudly. “It's probably the restoration project in Texas of the year.
“My hope, however, is that it's a catalyst. If we can do what we've done here, if we can create this valuable asset, this renaissance of a trophy property that everyone said could not be done, making it successful from both a development point and a financial perspective, then tell me what project in Big Spring can not be done. Tell me what project is harder than this. I hope it's a catalyst for people to say, 'Wow, if they can do the Settles, then why can't we do the State National Bank building? Why can't we bring the Palmer Hotel back or bring any of these other terrific properties back online. I hope this project contains that element, as well.”
Opening in October 1930 to great fanfare and support by the local community, Hotel Settles was often compared to the finest hotels of the day. The Hotel hosted notable guests including Elvis Presley, Lawrence Welk and Herbert Hoover.
The present day project — originally estimated at $12 million but is expected to round out construction and restoration above the $30 million mark — has been a journey for Ryan and his brother, Kris Ryan, who served as the project's construction manager.
“Six years ago, when I first took a look at the Settles, I thought, simply, this is impossible. It was the biggest mess I had ever seen in my life,” Ryan said. “At that time, there wasn't a single aspect of this place that hadn't been destroyed. The vandals, elements and even the pigeons destroyed this place. However, I also saw it as an incredible challenge. It's sort of like a jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of the pieces missing and you're trying to put it back together.
“So, when I came in (Thursday) and saw the progress, it was moving. I come out about once a month for our project meetings, but this was the first time I had seen the lobby restored, the furniture placed and it looks as good — or even better — than the renderings. I thought, 'Man, I've made this happen. We have done the impossible, we've breathed life back into something that had been destroyed.' That's very fulfilling. It's been fun.”
According to Ryan, the skeptics and naysayers helped drive him on the project. However, if those who had negative things to say then are expecting a pat on the back now, they have another thing coming.
“You know, I've thought about that,” Ryan said with a chuckle. “I told my wife that when I make my toast tonight, I'm going to thank the 99 percent of the people who really helped me, and they really did. Former mayor Russ McEwen, the city council, the economic development corporation and so many citizens who wrote letters and e-mails thanking us all along the way. I appreciate that support so much.
“I told my wife, however, for that 1 percent who didn't — the ones who called me a carpetbagger looking to take advantage of the people and all of the other negative things — they can kiss my butt. And you can quote me on that. I remember, during the first year people calling me a scoundrel, that I was ripping off the city and taking advantage of it. I kind of take it with a grain of salt today. However, you'll notice tonight none of those folks are here. I think that's fitting.”
The hotel opened to the public with light food service and cocktails at its bar, the Pharmacy Bar and Parlor, Saturday afternoon. Beginning Jan. 7, the Settles Grill will be available to everyone for breakfast and Jan. 9 lunch and dinner service will commence, according to Hotel Settles officials.
Nightly room rates start at $179 for a Historic Queen Room and go up to $1,000 for the Presidential Suite.
“I wanted to see this building put back to the way it was,” Ryan said. “I'll admit, I had no idea at that time it was going to take this long, it was going to be this difficult or this expensive. I just had no idea. Every aspect of it was a challenge, from the window restorations to the sign restoration, finding the pieces and parts for the lobby, the phone booths and chandeliers. Every bit of it was a challenge, and we enjoyed it.
“It was one of those things where so many people said, 'You can't do it. It can't be done. It can't be fixed and it can't be restored.' And we did it. We did it with every element. My view is we're already so far down this path, it has to be as close to perfect as we can make it in the human condition. That's what I'm hoping people see tonight.”
Reservations can be made online at HotelSettles.com or by calling 432-267-7500.