Jennings Hotel receiving face-lift

Steve Tool/Chieftain Greg Hennes standing in one of his nearly completed Jennings Hotel rooms

JOSEPH — It’s easy to look at the building that houses Arrowhead Chocolates in Joseph and forget that another business resides just above it. That is the Jennings Hotel, an eight-room establishment currently undergoing a complete restoration at the hands of new owner, Greg Hennes.

A Minnesota native, Hennes has lived in Oregon about 16 years, mainly in Portland, where he owns a photo equipment rental business, and several other concerns, including “Campfire Cologne,” which is sold at several local stores. Hennes bought the Jennings Hotel in May of 2014 and moved to Joseph several months ago.

Hennes started visiting Wallowa County over a decade ago on backpacking and camping trips and eventually fell in love with Joseph. He returned to the area once or twice a year and got interested in the Jennings Hotel several years ago. “About five years ago, I saw it was for sale, and I’d look at it every time I’d visit. I’d think about it, and eventually I took the plunge and bought it,” Hennes said.

Currently, the hotel houses a couple of resident artists from the Josephy Center. In the meantime, Hennes has gotten a team of seven designers from around the country who will each have creative control in designing individual rooms.

Besides refurbishing the inside of the hotel, Hennes also installed a sauna and adjacent shower for guests. For the moment, Hennes is doing the remodeling himself although he’s trying something that he hopes will enable him to hire help: using the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter to help finance the hotel’s renovation. “No one’s done this before, and once Kickstarter and crowdfunding gained in popularity, I thought it would be a good way to go about this. I can raise funds without going to a bank,” Hennes said.

In Hennes’ case, Kickstarter will allow individuals to contribute to the renovation costs, exchanging donations for reduced room rental rates, or even a month’s stay for a contribution of $650. Other rewards include various hotel amenities or even art work when the renovation is completed. “It’s a self-perpetuating animal, as people talk about it or come to visit,” Hennes said.

Hennes’ 30-day Kickstarter campaign has approximately one week left, and the campaign has raised about 75 percent of the desired total. Hennes says he’s gotten responses from all over the United States as well as from overseas.

People who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign can obtain rooms for as low as $75 per night, as compared to the $95-$125 nightly rate that applies during summer months. During the winter, the hotel will revert back to artist residences. Hennes will choose which artists obtain residences at the hotel.

Hennes doesn’t have a particular time-line to complete the project. “We’re going to open our first room probably at the end of June. We’re taking it one room at a time. It’s a labor of love, as they say,” he said.

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