Bertram Inn owners seek rezoning to convert some rooms into condos

If planning commission backs request, issue would go before voters in May 2021

by Ken Lahmers
The owners of the Bertram Inn and Conference Center are requesting a rezoning of their property that would allow for the conversion of some hotel rooms into condominiums.

AURORA – The owner of the Bertram Inn and Conference Center at 600 N. Aurora Road is seeking to rezone the 16.4-acre property from I-1 industrial to M-1 mixed-use so that the business can convert several of its rooms into condominiums.

The request was made by Heritage Capital Corp. representative Rob Benjamin (no relation to the Aurora mayor) at the planning commission’s Oct. 21 meeting. The panel accepted the request for study. If approved, the matter would go to City Council for possible placement on the May 2021 ballot.

The nearly 20-year-old, 25,000-square-foot inn operates under a conditional zoning certificate as a hotel complex, with 224 rooms, a conference center, banquet and meeting facilities, outdoor pool and two restaurants. The land surrounding the parcel is zoned PD (planned development).

Benjamin explained the changing dynamics of the hospitality industry have been difficult for the Bertram Inn, including the closing of the nearby theme parks, the renaissance of Cleveland’s downtown hospitality market and the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have tried to work with several hotel chains that have said the expense for their brand conversion would not be viable for the return,” he said. “We did a soft branding with Wyndham in 2017 that has not boosted revenue. The building is now at a crossroads. We cannot implement any capital into a hotel that is non-performing and really no longer the highest or best use for the land. A zoning change to mixed use allows us to work with the city to create a viable solution.”

Heritage is thus proposing to transform some of the existing hotel rooms into between 33 and 37 for-sale condo units. About 150 rooms would remain for overnight guests, and the other amenities also would stay in place.

“Most of the changes would be to the interior; there would be few exterior changes,” said Benjamin. “We are trying to be creative with this approach. This would not be a cheap project, but it would be a positive alternative to closing the facility.”  

He added his firm did not yet have an estimated cost for the project.

Benjamin said Heritage at first considered converting some of the rooms into apartments, but decided that for-sale units would be the best option. “We want to keep the Bertram a part of the Aurora community,” he said.

The purple section of the map is where the Bertram Inn and Conference Center is located. Bertram owners want have requested the property be rezoned so that some hotel rooms can be converted into condos.

“The Bertram is a real asset to the community and I would hate to see it go away,” said planning panelist Jim Maulis, while panelist Sarah Gilmore added, “I’m excited to see this proposal; I don’t want to see the business closed.”

“I know our regional economy has been changing, even before the pandemic hit, so I understand the Bertram’s proactive efforts to re-invent itself,” said Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin. “Its proposal to convert some of its property to high-end condominium units is in the initial stages of discussion, and it will be important to assess the community’s response as the proposal is evaluated. It is a beautiful facility in the community, which we do not want to fail. A change to a mixed-use development could help it succeed and could provide new vibrancy to that area.”

Planning commission chairman Kathi Grandillo said panel approval of the zoning change request could come in November. Council then would conduct a public hearing and decide whether to place the zoning change on the May 2021 ballot.

For the issue to go to voters in the spring, the city would have to send it to the Portage County Board of Elections by early February.

The next planning commission meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4, but Bertram's rezoning request is not on the agenda. The panel has until early January to recommend to council whether the rezoning will go on the spring primary ballot.

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