Fairfield Inn Progress

Open House offers residents a peek inside Cotton Mill project

Consortium hopes to open new Fairfield Inn
by 2021 Derby

(November 2020) – Anyone who has walked the Madison, Ind., riverfront has seen the former Eagle Cotton Mill near the Milton-Madison Bridge. The announcement more than a year ago that a group of investors called Riverton LLC had bought the property and was going to turn it into a hotel was met with some skepticism.

Photo by Ben Newell

Tour guide John Fromen (left) leads a group through what will be hotel rooms on the upper floor of the Fairfield Inn.

Justly so, since for several times in the past, Madison residents have been tantalized by plans to repurpose the grand building. But for various reasons, nothing was done.
Enter Ron and Marlene Bateman, who retired to Madison in 2017. Ron’s grandparents had a  farm near Greensburg, Ind., and became familiar with Madison and its downtown and riverfront. He is an architect who spent 25 years in Alaska working on different projects. Many of those projects were for large Alaskan-based housing authorities and nonprofits that provide affordable housing for those who qualify.  
When the Batemans moved to Madison, they decided to find “the worst house we could find and remodel it.” As they were doing the remodel, Ron said he kept being drawn to the Cotton Mill as he walked on the riverfront. His experience as an architect and the projects he had done in Alaska helped him envision the building being saved and repurposed. After doing much thinking, it finally became clear to him that “this needs to be done,” said Bateman.
And so began an almost two-year effort to make this dream come true. Bateman first approached several business associates in Alaska with his idea, and they quickly came on board. They hired a research company to determine what would be the best fit for Madison and the financial resources they hoped to have.
“While many were pushing for housing, it was the late Madison Mayor Damon Welch who really thought Madison needed a destination hotel on the riverfront,” said Bateman. The search company eventually presented a hotel connected to Fairfield by Marriott as a good fit.
Securing the finances for the $21 million dollar project was also a long and complicated process.  After many meetings and phone calls, the pieces of the puzzle began to come together. Grants from Indiana Economic Development Corp., the city of Madison, the American Heritage Preservation Association and loans from Monarch Capital, Old National Bank and the First National Bank of Alaska made the project possible.

Photo provided

This rendition shows what the Fairfield Inn by Marriott will look like when it is finished and opens next spring on the riverfront in Madison, Ind.

Groundbreaking took place one year ago, and ever since then there has been a flurry of activity on the site. Dozens of contracting companies have been brought in to do their specialties. According to Bateman, “Our contractors have been great. They seem to like this project and take great pride in their work. We have tried to hire local people when possible.”
Keeping with people he knew who would do a good job, Bateman hired his brother-in-law, Dave Titus, as his project manager. Titus held the same position for British Petroleum in Alaska, and he and his wife soon moved to Madison in 2019.
When asked why he took the position, Titus replied, “It was too challenging to resist.”
On Saturday, Oct. 10, the project held its first open house to the public. Tickets were online for free and were quickly snatched up by the locals who wanted to see inside of this building that had always looked so interesting. The event was hosted by Dora Hospitality, the Indianapolis-based company that will manage the hotel, along with Ratio Architects.
As you approach the building, one is struck by the massive brick structure that has been newly tuck pointed and looks pristine.  Once inside, the visitors immediately are impressed by three of the original features. 
First is the height of the ceilings, which are at least 12 feet throughout the building. In an effort to preserve the historical dimensions and look, the original wood plank floors have been saved. They are painted white, which was originally used to make the most of natural and artificial light for the workers.
The second feature is the use of the original posts and beams. The posts are made of Heart Pine, brought down the river from the Monongahela watershed in western Pennsylvania. They, too, are painted white, and if one looks carefully, you will notice the edges are chamfered. This was done in buildings of the time to reduce the chance of them burning in a fire. Each room will have at least one exposed post and beam.

Photo by Ben Newell

A local resident on the tour pauses to peer out the window of the future Fairfield Inn that overlooks the Ohio River.

The third and probably the most outstanding feature of each room is the windows. Originally, they were designed large to let in as much light as possible for the workers who were running  the looms and other machines. Each windows is approximately 5x8 feet tall, and one or more will be in each room. The windows had to be approved by the National Park Service for their historical correctness and should start arriving this month. According to Bateman, “The 245 windows will cost, including installation, close to a million dollars.”
Titus did double duty by leading tours of the building during the open house. As he took the groups around, he explained how all the room designs were reviewed by Marriott officials and would have all the amenities one would expect at one of their hotels. Each room will have 55-inch smart TVs with exceptionally fast Internet. The rooms are larger than the average hotel room, and the front ones have an exceptional view of the river and bridge.
The first floor is designed for the small-to-medium conventions they hope to attract. The banquet room can be configured to seat 500 people, and other space is designed for smaller groups. All of the latest technology will be available to fit any group’s needs, Titus said.
Behind the mill are the remains of the Picker House, which originally was where the cotton first went to be prepared to be woven into cloth or twine. That building is being brought back to its original state with a new roof and floor. “As of now there are no plans on how it will be used, and we are open to suggestions,” Titus said.
Along on the tour was area resident John Fromen, who was originally from Ghent, Ky., and now has a house that overlooks the river on the Milton, Ky. hillside. He said he was excited about what he saw and said, “As I looked across the river, I would wonder if that wonderful building was just going to decay into ruins. What I’ve seen today is wonderful.”
As far as when the hotel will be finished and opened, Bateman said, “We’re shooting for the Kentucky Derby (next year), but who knows with the pandemic going on. Getting everything to come in on time has been a real challenge. There have been some days that with all the obstacles we faced, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. But so far we are pretty much on time and budget.”
The next open house is being planned to serve as the official grand opening, but the date has not yet been set. So keep your eyes open for that sometime in the spring. You’re bound to be impressed.


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