Work began Tuesday on the restoration of the downtown Pawnee Hotel, dispelling fears that the landmark building would fall into ruin.

Owner Jay Mitchell and his small but expert crew spent the first days securing the building – patching the roof, tightening up access points, cleaning trash. Mitchell came in work clothes and did a lot of the hands-on work.

Mitchell said he’s been working behind the scenes to obtain and restore the building since 2015. He’s spent time and energy learning about the community as well as the Pawnee.

He said he was attracted by the many historical features of the building, which has never been remodeled for other use, and visited with the people involved to understand the social dynamics as well as possible.

Mitchell previously planned to start restoration work last spring, but COVID-19 hit, making travel difficult, and his crew had other commitments due to precautionary steps / quarantines among associates, friends and family members.

Mitchell is happy to be in North Platte now, finally working the project for which he has such a passion. He has restored similar hotels in other parts of the country with a record of success.

One of the first things he and his crew did in North Platte was uncover the neon sign above the old Tom-Tom coffee shop. The Tom-Tom was located just off the hotel lobby next to a barbershop, and also had street access.

Unbeknownst to most North Platte residents, the Tom-Tom sign had been covered for decades.

The ownership of the Pawnee Hotel was in limbo for several years, making it impossible to develop the property. The hotel was an assisted living home when it closed in 2013, leaving debts unpaid.

At that point, the Pawnee Assisted Living Corporation was barely functioning with no assets other than the abandoned building. The corporation eventually disbanded.

As the assisted living corporation struggled to survive in the years before it closed, Mitchell helped relieve some of the financial pressure by paying off a $57,000 bank loan /mortgage from First National Bank. He thereby became the first lien holder on the building, according to Lincoln County records on file with the county registrar of deeds.

Using private money, the Chamber of Commerce paid off another financial liability — overdue property taxes — in February, and started a legal process to obtain a clear title to the hotel. When that process was complete, Mitchell then acquired the title from the Chamber in late July 2019, making his company the sole owner.

The hotel was built in 1929. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.