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CAPE MAY, NJ-This Victorian Era seaside resort is getting ready to welcome back one of its mainstay hostelries. Owner Cape Advisors, Inc. is wrapping up a $22 million renovation of Congress Hall, aimed at both restoring the property to its 19th century elegance and upgrading it with 21st century amenities.

The hotel was originally built in 1816 as Cape May’s first large hotel. It was simply known as the “Big House,” but was renamed Congress Hall after owner Thomas H. Hughes was elected to Congress. Frequently playing host to presidents during the 19th century, the hotel’s heyday was from 1880 to about 1920. The property’s re-opening is scheduled for next spring.

Located in the heart of the National Historic Landmark City of Cape May, the revamped Congress Hall will feature a 150-seat restaurant, a 300-seat ballroom, 104 guestrooms and five suites.

“Our job was to grasp the architectural vernacular and preserve it,” enthuses Cape Advisors principal Curtis Bashaw, whose grandfather managed the property for many years. “The building will blend history, local materials and craftsmanship. The old and new will come together to create a fresh interpretation of a classic seaside hotel.”

Interior design is by Colleen Bohuny, who is Curtis Bashaw’s sister. The other principal in Cape Advisors is Craig Wood.

In terms of financing, Cape Advisors received a $10 million construction loan and a $8.2 million permanent loan from Sun National Bank of Vineland, NJ. Congress Hall, LLC was also granted a 20% tax credit on certified construction and other project costs because it’s being restored to National Park Standards, the strictest historic rehab standards in the country. The credits, totaling about $2.2 million, were sold to an investor for $1.8 million in cash, which has gone into the project.

Congress Hall also got a $2.5 million HUD loan through the New Jersey EDA, with the City of Cape May acting as sponsor. The State of New Jersey awarded the City of Cape May a $600,000 CDBG relating to the rehab, and an application for a $875,000 training grant is pending with the NJ Department of Labor. Finally, traditional equity of more than $5 million was raised from individual investors.

Cape May is located in extreme southern New Jersey, about an hour’s drive south of Atlantic City. The oceanfront resort community is well known for having one of the world’s largest collections of historic Victorian architecture.

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