The sign of the Central Hotel, built in 1929, is pictured in this undated photo.

The sign of the Central Hotel, built in 1929, is pictured in this undated photo.

Courtesy of Jen Keady

Take a walk in downtown Burns and you see a few shops and restaurants, but also empty storefronts and vacant lots. The Central Hotel, built in 1929, was boarded up until recently.

Now, the old hotel will be refurbished with funding from the State Historic Preservation Office.
“It’s been sitting empty on the Main Street of Burns for about 20-25 years,” said Burns business owner Jen Keady. “We’ve got this little Main Street and it’s dying.”

She and her husband, Forrest Keady, bought the building in August 2016. The Keadys received a $100,000 matching grant from the state to bring the hotel back to life.

The 12 rooms will have a 1920s flair with a modern twist, Keady says. She hopes the renovation will be part of a broader economic development to invigorate Burns. 

“We want to see people who are looking for that rural, slower place but with the amenities that we all like,” Keady said. 
The hotel is one of 27 small town economic revitalization projects funded this week by the State Historic Preservation Office. 

The grant program for main street revitalization projects was created during the 2015 legislative session, and placed with the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. The legislation established a permanent fund for the Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant, and provided an initial infusion of funds from the sale of lottery bonds. The funds must be used to award grants to participating Oregon Main Street Network organizations to acquire, rehabilitate or construct buildings to facilitate community revitalization.

Like many rural communities in Oregon, Harney County has struggled to attract new employers and businesses. In the 1970s, the community had some of the highest average wages in the state, thanks to the timber industry boom. But today, the town of Burns struggles.

“We need to be selling Burns instead of apologizing for Burns,” Keady said.

The Central Hotel in Burns has sat vacant for at least the past 20 years.

The Central Hotel in Burns has sat vacant for at least the past 20 years.

Courtesy Jen Keady

She said because Burns is on a major thoroughfare between Idaho and Bend, the community has an opportunity to capitalize on travelers passing through. Plus, a number of wild and recreation attractions are nearby — like Steens Mountain and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

“I fully believe that the hotel would make a huge impact on our community. But it’s a small piece of what needs to be done,” said Keady. “Small-town America could be so amazing.”