From Eyesore to Eye Candy

The office of Motel 57 in Sturgeon Bay.

The long-empty former Dun-Ro-Min Motel on the northbound side of Highway 57 in Sturgeon Bay might have looked like an eyesore to most people, but Jon Hanson saw it as an opportunity to boost his family of Sturgeon Bay businesses that are not as visible to the passing tourist looking for a good time.

He’d had his eye on the long empty motel and its high visibility position at the gateway to the peninsula for a while.

“It just became a great deal and we couldn’t turn it down,” Hanson said.

When he says “we,” he means he and his wife, Patti. Together they own Snug Harbor Inn and Beach Harbor Resort/Waterfront Mary’s, both of which are on the water but also off the beaten path, meaning little visibility to visitors, whereas the high visibility of the reinvigorated Motel 57 could serve as a gateway to the Hansons’ other businesses.

“It gives you exposure on the highway,” Hanson said. “We had a billboard about six months ago. A billboard is $1,300 a month. That’s two-thirds of the mortgage on this place. So here we can have exposure for our jet ski business and our other hotel, which is huge for us.”

But first Hanson had to convince his wife that it was a good idea.

“I asked my wife if she wanted to do it and she said no. I asked her again and she said no. The third time, she said, ‘Don’t even talk to me about it.’ Then I told her the price, and she said, ‘I’ll go look at it with you.’ When we looked at it, she said, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’”

And what a shot it was. Jon recently took Len Villano and I on a tour of some of the last 12 units of the 24-unit hotel to be updated, and we were impressed with the obvious attention to detail the couple gave to updating the rooms.

The motel actually began life as dormitories that housed workers when the Sturgeon Bay shipyards were working at capacity during World War II. Hanson believes the motel units were actually the second story units of the dormitory, which once stood on the ball fields at Sturgeon Bay High School.

“The construction is amazing. These were really well built,” Hanson said. “As you drive around the state, you see a lot of old hotels like this, but you don’t see the style like this. Those roof overhangs are 12 feet. It was tough putting a new roof on it – the new roof was $45,000.”

Which reminds him, “It’s one of those things that if someone would have told you exactly what it would cost when you started, you might not have started,” he said.

The look inside the rooms is at once retro and modern. Most importantly, the rooms are inviting, with warm, coordinated color schemes and artistic flair that you do not expect from the humble exterior.

The Hansons have kept much of the original furniture – end tables, lamps, headboards.

“We saved what furniture was savable,” Hanson said.

But they don’t skimp by repurposing the old furniture. For example, the beds are fitted with extra-long mattresses, something you just would not expect from a typical roadside motel.

Each bathroom has a different tile design by Roger Miller. “He’s an artist,” Hanson said. The showers were expanded for a more luxuriant bathing experience. Each unit has a kitchen.

“My wife did a great job,” Hanson said. “All the stuff that worked out and made it really cool was her idea, and I wasn’t thrilled with it when we started. It drove the cost up probably $50,000 because of the bathroom stuff and other things she did, but it appraised $150,000 higher than we thought it would. Based on the size and scope of the project, it was really fun. We didn’t fight a lot about it. And it worked out pretty good.”

Half of the 24 units were ready for customers last year, and finishing touches are being applied to the remaining rooms.

“They’ll all be open for spring,” Hanson said. “I’m really happy how it all turned out. This used to be an eyesore. There was a big snaggle-toothed mound of trees out front. There was debris. It was just ugly. When it’s all done, it will be pretty and a credit to the community rather than an eyesore. I think if we wouldn’t have done this, it would have been knocked down.”

In season, Motel 57 rooms rent for $79 to $89 a night. For reservations, call 920.743.3191.