After teetering in limbo on the real estate market, the fate of the Allenberry Resort Inn & Playhouse has suddenly and dramatically taken a turn for the better.
Days before the property was set for public auction, it was announced that a buyer had stepped forward for the iconic creekside resort in Boiling Springs.
Recently, that buyer came forward – and had already started renovations, with an ambitious plan to turn the property around.
“You’re not going to get this anywhere else,” said Mike Kennedy. “You can’t recreate the Allenberry. This is about polishing and refinishing the legacy that’s already here.”
Kennedy purchased the property with one co-investor, although he hopes to bring on additional partners to add more capital for renovation. He declined to disclose the price – the resort’s founding family, the Heinzes, had initially advertised the property for $6 million, but said they would be willing to accept half that as time wore on.
Kennedy said he is prepared to put a significant amount of money into the Allenberry. Work has already started this week on the Stone Lodge, which holds a dozen of the resort’s guest rooms as well as a restaurant and conference facility. Like all the Allenberry’s buildings, Kennedy said the historic structure itself is in excellent shape—but musty carpeting and other finish elements are being ripped out and updated.
“We’re going to renovate that and get it up and running first,” Kennedy said. “I’m hoping to have it open by October, but we’ll see if that’s too optimistic.”
The Allenberry opened as a resort in 1944, although the property is built around a farm from the late 18th century. The 57 acres feature multiple buildings for dining and lodging, as well as tennis courts, pools, and one of the world’s best fly fishing locations, the Yellow Breeches Creek.
The resort was conceived at a time when most Americans did not travel as far as they did today; spending a few days at the next town or county was considered a large and expensive venture.
“At that time, right after the war, Carlisle was considered to be a long way away for most people in Boiling Springs. Nobody went back and forth like we do now,” said Kathy Heinze, whose husband, John, is the son of Allenberry founder Charles A.B. Heinze.
Even after the era of all-inclusive countryside resorts began to wane, the Allenberry’s traditional popularity, particularly its playhouse, carried it through. But with its visitor base aging, and costs rising, business slowed and the property fell into debt.
With a little bit of renovation, Kennedy thinks he can attract a new crowd. One of the aging tennis courts will be turned into an amphitheater for concerts. All of the lodging and dining facilities will be re-vamped under the direction of Dan Johnson, a hospitality consultant who has appeared frequently on the Travel Channel.
“Dan will start Monday working with the Heinzes’ existing team to turn some things around,” Kennedy said.
A native of Cumberland County, Kennedy made his fortune in the railroad construction business. But he has recently taken an interest in property investment, particularly redevelopment projects. Kennedy is behind the Sun Motors project in Camp Hill, the sprawling former car dealership that is being turned into a stylish complex with a restaurant, craft brewery, and salon.
“We recreated Sun Motors into something pretty special,” Kennedy said. “Our business is railroad construction, so we know how to bring project together. With Allenberry, there are a lot of different revenue streams we can plug into.”
The resort’s iconic playhouse, which has sat fallow for some time, could be revived, although not until Kennedy renovates other areas and gets some cash flow coming in again.
“I’ve been speaking with the folks who had been running it for the Heinzes,” Kennedy said. “We want to hear from them what that marketplace is…I really know nothing about the theater business.”
Some years ago, the Heinzes also had plans to build a 55-and-up residential community on an adjacent parcel, which would give the Allenberry a more reliable customer base. Kennedy said he has been in talks with local officials to get those plans revived, although development will be a lengthy process.
As for the Heinzes, Kathy and John plan to stay in the area. Kathy will be serving on the board of the new Friends of Allenberry, a nonprofit that will run charitable activities out of the resort. Kennedy has provided startup funds for the group.
“One of the first things we want to do is offer internships to local students in hospitality management,” said Kerrie Truax, who will serve as the director of Friends of Allenberry. “Most people would’ve looked at this as something to do on down the road, but I think it speaks to [Kennedy’s] vision that he really wants to keep the community involved in Allenberry.”