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Philipsburg loses its showcase hotel suddenly

| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 3:58 p.m.

PHILIPSBURG, Pa. — What a difference a year makes.

A year ago, the Philips Hotel was putting up a beautiful Christmas tree, decking the historic building's halls and festooning the lobby with swags and lights, preparing to welcome children to sit on Santa's lap after the annual Philipsburg Christmas parade.

This year, the hotel is locked and dark. The phone doesn't ring, and owner Faith Lucchesi's contact number is not accepting calls. The website reports a generic “internal server error.”

A note taped to the front door reads: “If you are reading this sign, you were a friend of The Philips and for that we are forever grateful. We have met many wonderful people who have touched our lives in many surprising ways. People who we will never forget and whose memories we will cherish. Sadly, however, the restaurant is now closed for business. Be well, and thanks for the memories.”

It's a blow for the building some saw as a great opportunity for development in the community.

Almost 100 years old, the Philips originally was a hotel with a fancy restaurant, a coffee shop and a tobacco shop, catering to the business clientele who took trains to Philipsburg to network in the coal, brick or lumber industries. As those fell away, it was reborn as an assisted living facility, Moshannon Heights, operated by Presbyterian Senior Living (now Windy Hill Village). But that too went away a number of years ago when the home was closed and residents relocated. The building stood empty, awaiting new life.

In 2009, it seemed that time had come. Centre County commissioners and state officials announced that new owners were stepping up, matching a $1 million grant secured for Philipsburg development in the wake of the 2005 fire that struck the downtown with $1.3 million of their own funds. Improvements would bring the building into compliance to reopen as a hotel, restaurant and public event space, going for things like Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades, sprinkler systems, room restoration and work on the stairwells.

It reopened, and for a couple of years, it seemed great. The ballroom buzzed with parties and banquets. A rooftop dining space gave patrons a view. But not everyone was thrilled. Online reviews exposed recent weaknesses.

“The Philips is a very old hotel which has, by all appearances, not received much in the way of upgrades from its owners, whom I assume are looking for a way to make a quick buck by charging exorbitant prices for a miserable experience,” said one TripAdvisor user who stayed at the hotel in October.

Philipsburg Main Street Manager Dana Shoemaker was one of the first to be surprised by the locked doors, when she showed up for two back-to-back meetings and couldn't open the front door. That was just one day after she had been there with a bus full of diners from a Leadership Centre County trip. She said there was no indication it was closing then.

“Clearly, it's a tragedy for us,” she said. “We don't have any other lodging.”

That's something that can make it harder for the Philipsburg area to justify receiving tourism dollars since the county collects them based on a pillow tax levied on hotels. The two other local hotels are on the other side of the creek, in Clearfield County.

“It was bringing in a fair amount of business from out of town,” Shoemaker said. “It's just sad. It's very rare to have reuse of a white elephant structure.”

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