The dilapidated and long-empty Villa Budget Motel at east Eighth Street and Vine will reopen by January with a new look, a new name and at least eight new one-bedroom apartments.

Hays businessman Mark Ottley started earlier this summer converting the 50-room motel, which he purchased from a Salina bank a couple of years ago. It has sat empty for at least the past four or five years, as far as he and others remember.

“I’ve kind of watched this property over the years,” Ottley said Tuesday on a walk-through at the site at 810 E. Eighth. “The property was pretty depressed. That’s why we’re tearing a portion of it down.”

Ottley, who came to Hays about 30 years ago from Grinnell, has remodeled a number of single-family residential and commercial properties. He also has been co-owner of Coach’s restaurant on Canterbury and owner of Mid Kansas Auto Auction on 48th Street on the north side of Hays.

“I enjoy laying out the properties, laying out the floor plans, and seeing them come together,” Ottley said.

Contractor Haselhorst Builders LLC, 2900 E. 8th St., should start demolition in the next couple of weeks on one of the oldest portions of the motel. The conversion to apartments has already begun on some of the motel rooms.

“It appears it was built in four stages originally,” Ottley said of the one- and two-story brick and waffle-crete buildings, which form a square surrounding an abandoned cement in-ground swimming pool in the middle.

He plans to tear down the oldest part, add an addition to another section, and convert all that remains.

When completed, there will be 39 one-bedroom apartments, about 600 to 700 square feet, and eight studio apartments, with a laundromat on site and small storage units.

All the apartments will have a front and rear entrance, and all will have access to what will be a grassy courtyard in the middle with barbecue huts and picnic tables. Ottley is still trying to decide whether to put in a new pool, making it one of the few, if not the only, apartment buildings in Hays with a pool.

“You can tell it’s an old pool, it’s 10 feet deep,” Ottley said of the existing pool, which will be taken out. “Insurance would never allow one that deep now.”

Phase one will open in time for the spring semester at Fort Hays State University, he said, and there will be anywhere from eight to 16 apartments completed.

Ottley estimates the motel, originally called the Lamer Motel, was built in the 1950s or 1960s. A March 1963 news item in The Hays Daily News reported that then Hays businessman Henry Schwaller purchased the 17-unit Lamer Motel from Willis Lamer, renaming it the Villa Motel.

Schwaller said at the time he planned to add a swimming pool and two more units and completely redecorate the motel. At the end of March he was issued a building permit to construct a 16-by-40-foot pool, estimated to cost $2,500. In 1964, the newspaper reported that eight additional units, two story, were completed. Ownership isn’t documented in the newspaper after that, but by 2001 it was called the Budget Host Villa Motel and was making headlines with news stories associated with drugs and crime.

Southside Convenience at 703 Vine St. backs up to the old motel. Store manager Jarrod Miller said he and the store owners, Chuck and Tera Patel, who also own Tiger Mart on West Eighth Street and the Golden Ox Truck Stop on North Vine, couldn’t be happier about the conversion to apartments.

“We are glad they are going to fix this up,” Miller said. “It’s been an eyesore.”

The Patels bought Southside three years ago and now sell Cenex branded gasoline. They’ve extensively remodeled their property with new pumps and a canopy, new exterior stucco, and new flooring in the store, as well as getting the car wash up and running again.

The store does a booming business with hot food for breakfast, lunch and supper, as well as selling live bait and fishing tackle, Miller said. There has been discussion of expanding the grocery offerings, including bread, once the apartments are finished.

Looking out at the parking lot on Tuesday, store employee Kenny Claypool remarked on the huge plastic sign on steel posts looming over the convenience store’s parking lot with the single word "motel" in capital letters, and others letters obviously missing.

“When I first started working here, it still said ‘Welcome to Hays,’ ” recalled Claypool, who has worked at the store for four years in January.

Ottley says he will give the apartments a new name and plans to use the lighted signs for rental advertising.

Ottley already has made a difference at the corner of Eighth and Vine, where he owns the building right across the street, giving it an exterior remodel. An old Skelly gas station, it is now home to Happy’s Auto, a car dealership owned by Ottley’s son, Trevor Ottley.

The new apartments will take the busy corner at the intersection of Eighth and Vine a step further.

“It takes time,” Ottley said, “but when we’re finished it should be an attractive addition.”