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New prospects for an old hotel

PROSPECT ' It's out of the way, but not unknown. Hard to find, but worth the effort.

With the Prospect Hotel duly restored to its former glory, new owners Fred and Karen Wickman dream of more.

The historic inn built in the late 19th century on Mill Creek Drive prospered in the era when it took two days ' perhaps longer ' to drive from the Rogue Valley to Crater Lake. It fell out of favor after a nine-mile stretch of Highway 62 veered away from town in August 1965 and into disrepair as the timber economy faded.

John Record spent a million dollars revamping the 5&

189; -acre landmark before dying in a 1989 plane crash. Eventually, Mike and Jo Turner took over the project, pouring seven years of blood, sweat and money into the property as they rebuilt its appeal and customer base.

Worn out but still enamored of Prospect, the Turners put the property up for sale on eBay's real estate site for &

36;1.4 million. That's where Fred Wickman discovered the Prospect Hotel last winter.

— It was time to sell, says Jo Turner, who is building a new house in the community. Interest rates were low, prices were high and we had been working 24/7 for the last 7&

189; years.

A couple of telephone calls and face-to-face negotiations (We didn't want to involve accountants and attorneys, Wickman says) produced a quick deal and the Wickmans took possession in March.

While learning the hospitality ropes during his first season, Fred Wickman toyed with the idea of revamping an old Standard gas station on the property. Most recently, the decommissioned fuel and heavy equipment repair shop has housed an arts and crafts store and workshop.

Wickman proposes converting the building into a multipurpose facility for corporate meetings and group retreats.

Right now, we don't have a meeting room, except if we use the dining room, Wickman says. That takes a lot of effort to turn it back into a restaurant for that night.

His plans call for pool and pingpong tables and a big-screen television set as well as meeting space. I'm hoping we'll have it completed in two years, he says.

In the interim , the Wickmans want to make the grounds, with 557 feet of frontage on Mill Creek and a 40-foot-by-70-foot pond, more family friendly and plan to develop an outdoor volleyball area.

The Wickmans are from Fairfield, Calif., where he was an operations manager for a series of entrepreneurial manufacturers and she was a registered nurse.

We decided a couple of years ago to go to a resort-type of community out in the wilderness and started doing an Internet search, Fred Wickman says. I wanted to be in the mountains, where it was a little more rural and where people actually enjoyed seeing you day to day.

During peak season, Prospect Hotel's payroll swells to 31 ' making it the largest employer in town until school cranks up. The hotel has 10 bed and breakfast rooms, named for distinguished guests, with private baths and another 14 motel units built by Record.

The Turners made it a favorite summer stop for Crater Lake travelers, capitalizing on Internet marketing.

We just made it the center of town again, Jo Turner says. It might sound a little arrogant, but it became a place where people wanted to come again.

Wickman hopes to attract more visitors in the spring and fall. He says the occupancy rate is nearly 100 percent during the tourist season and cross country skiers are a boon in the winter.

If you graphed our occupancy rate, it's bell-shaped, he says. I want to build up the shoulders in the spring and fall.

Wickman hopes to tap into the Jackson County market by operating the restaurant seven days a week after Labor Day ' instead of just weekends ' as it has in the past.

It's amazing how many people I run into when I'm down in the valley, he says, who have never heard of Prospect and have no idea where it is.

Business Card:

Name: Prospect Hotel

Business: Bed and breakfast

Location: 391 Mill Creek Drive, Prospect

Restaurant hours: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer

Phone number: 1-800-944-6490

Owners: Fred and Karen Wickman

Web site: New prospects for an old hotel"business@mailtribune.com.

New owners of the historic Prospect Inn, built in the late 19th century, hope to add a meeting facility and keep the restaurant open weeknights after Labor Day. Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman