At the end of New Prague’s Main Street, just beyond the bars, boutiques and faded murals celebrating Czech heritage is a reminder of the small town’s bustling past — Hotel Broz.
It used to be known as Schumacher’s New Prague Hotel, a destination famous for its spaetzle and kolache. It closed in 2005 and an attempt at a new restaurant there fizzled in 2011. Ever since, residents have been waiting for the hotel to reopen, in hopes that it will again draw a stream of tourists and re-energize downtown.
But that dream is just out of reach, hanging on the actions of a Twin Cities philanthropist. Caroline Amplatz purchased the shuttered hotel in 2011 and began pouring her money into its restoration. After years of renovations the hotel is nearly complete — and up for sale again. The move leaves locals wondering who will buy and run a boutique hotel on the very edge of the metro area.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that it’s up for sale,” said New Prague Mayor Chuck Nickolay. “That adds an uncertainty to the city and what’s going to happen to the building.”
Amplatz said she intends to find a buyer who is enthusiastic about owning and operating the 13-bedroom hotel, now called Hotel Broz after its original owner. The price tag is $1.6 million. Jim Reeder, who owns the music store downtown, said the landmark hotel is an important link to the city’s past.
“When I was young, [the hotel] had a considerable reputation,” he said. “People would say, ‘You’re that town with Schumacher’s.’ It was the town of polka music and Schumacher’s.”
Drawn to history
Amplatz bought the hotel in 2011 for about $360,000. But its charm caught her eye years before.
“I saw its potential when I visited the property when it was Schumacher’s,” she said via e-mail. “I love the European atmosphere.”
The property’s first owner was an immigrant from Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. The hotel, built in 1898, is part of “a larger story of Czech settlement in Minnesota during the mid-to-late 1800s,” she said.
That European history intrigued Amplatz, who grew up speaking German with her Austrian-born father, Minnesota medical device inventor Kurt Amplatz.
The hotel renovation, while big for New Prague, is tiny compared to some of Caroline Amplatz’s other recent Twin Cities philanthropy. In 2009, she donated $50 million to the University of Minnesota for a new children’s hospital. In 2011, she pledged $11.2 million for upgrades to the U’s psychiatric ward for teenagers.
The hotel, which Amplatz saw as a labor of love, became a research project as she pored over old photos to see how it had once appeared.
“There were clues everywhere, from hidden tin ceilings to original beams, that gave us glimpses into what Hotel Broz had been and still wanted to be,” she said.
She installed a new kitchen and replaced the roof, electricity and plumbing. She found local craftspeople to recover the historic details throughout, including in the three dining rooms. She brought in sparkling chandeliers from Prague and placed antique European armoires in the bedrooms.
“Many of these details — from ironworking to woodcarving — could only be handled by the rarest of experts,” she said.
But she soon realized that her passion was for fixing up the hotel, not operating it herself, she said.
Three weeks ago, Amplatz announced she was putting Hotel Broz on the market. The $1.6 million asking price is less than she’s spent on the project over the years, she said.
Amplatz believes the building could have several purposes, including an event center.
“I would love to have it open,” said Beth Stead, owner of Bargain Betty’s, a Main Street consignment shop. “I think that would bring business back into town a little bit.”
Terry Bily, a co-owner of JT’s Hideaway bar who once worked at the Schumacher, agrees. “It would be nice for the town, to put us on the map again,” she said.
Even if someone is interested and able to buy the hotel, there could be other challenges, said Tami Schluter, executive director of the Minnesota Bed and Breakfast Association.
One of the biggest factors will be how the city of New Prague promotes itself once the nostalgia for an old hotel wears off, Schluter said.
“Where is the business going to come from? How are they going to tap into the 3 million people who live in Minneapolis and St. Paul?” she asked. “It has to be a joint effort.”
Until then, the Hotel Broz sits unopened, but looking elegant once again.