For years, most people looked at the old Coolfont Resort in Berkeley Springs and saw only an abandoned building whose glory days were past. When G. Larry Omps looked, he saw potential for a destination resort with a bright future.
History of fame and fortune
In 1965, businessman Sam Ashelman and associates built the Coolfont Resort. The resort hosted eminent figures from Washington political and social circles in its well-appointed lodging, conference center, spa and recreational facilities. Forty years later, the resort was sold to a development corporation with big plans to remake Coolfont to surpass its former status as a premier resort. When the development company CEO died in a helicopter crash a year later, the renovation project was abandoned and the property fell into disrepair.
Coolfont and its surrounding acres were divided into nine parcels and put on auction in 2016. Several parcels were purchased by bidders who wished to remain anonymous. Omps and his family bid successfully on three parcels.
“When Coolfont closed in 2006, it left a big void in tourism,” Omps said. “The place had not been maintained for ten years. As you can imagine, we’ve had to renovate every building. The challenges were to renovate the property to its former glory, to have it take its place in local history and to rejuvenate tourism in Berkeley Springs.”
Community spirit merges with commercial skills
Morgan County native Omps worked as an industrial engineer for a corporation based nearby. When the company left the area, Omps stayed. He built a new career, earning real estate licenses in West Virginia and Virginia. He built and sold log homes, later expanding into timber framing, custom homes and planned communities. Omps and his two brothers purchased a local hardware store, added a John Deere dealership and an Ace Hardware franchise. He built and operated a Best Western hotel, a franchise he selected because the company encouraged local branding.
In 2013, the Omps family and an estimated 100 other people attended the auction of The Country Inn. Built in 1932, the Inn once was a magnet, attracting the glamorous and well-heeled. With its glory days gone and owners bankrupt, the historic downtown structure stood forlorn and for sale. The Omps family successfully won the bid. They renovated, upgraded and reopened in 2014.
That project prepared the Omps for an even larger project: The Coolfont Resort.
Omps is managing partner in the Coolfont renovation venture, joined by his partner/wife Barbara and their children Matthew, Andrew and Lara.
Renovations began on Coolfont in 2016.
WV SBDC connects with contacts and resources
This time, Omps added a new resource to the project: the West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC).
The WV SBDC heads a statewide network of business coaches who provide no-cost, one-on-one consultations, training and connections to financial, technological and other resources.
Mary Hott previously covered the Eastern Panhandle as a WV SBDC business coach and now serves as Innovation-Technology program coordinator. A successful entrepreneur herself as well as a business coach for others, Hott earned a Master of Science in Information Systems and a marketing certification from Harvard University Extension School. She is also a Certified Business Advisor (CBA®).
WV SBDC Information-Technology Program Coordinator Mary Hott
“I have known Larry for many years because we are both from Morgan County and work in the business community,” said Hott. “He is a natural-born entrepreneur. He was raised with an appreciation of the land and the importance of family, community and perseverance. And perhaps most importantly as an entrepreneur, he has the drive to work through obstacles to find the pathway to success.”
Omps contacted Hott in 2017 to discuss his plans for The Country Inn and Coolfont Resort.
“Like any great entrepreneur, he knew to reach out to available state resources to see what might be beneficial for his latest venture into hospitality and tourism,” Hott said.
“It has been a great honor for me as a business coach to have the opportunity to work as ‘peer-to-peer’ with Larry.”
Hott helped connect Omps to resources in the state for marketing, job development, tourism and West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration. She also helped co-locate the independent brewpub and water adventure businesses on the resort grounds.
“They serve as additional attractions to the resort while providing amenities to Coolfont guests,” she said.
When the renovation ran into issues with its private water/sewage treatment facility, the WV SBDC business coach was able to set up meetings with the appropriate state environmental, natural resource and engineering officials to resolve it.
“I would recommend Business Coach Mary Hott to anybody,” Omps said. “The opportunity that she can give you with other agencies; that’s invaluable. It would be foolish not to use a tool like SBDC that’s there for you, especially in a new startup.”
Icon with glamorous past prepares for an elegant future
Coolfont reopened in 2019. In 2020, Hott nominated Omps for a recognition from the Small Business Administration (SBA) West Virginia office. He was named Rural-Owned Small Business of the Year.
The resort currently features full-service lodging, cabins and the Treetop restaurant and “Cheers”-style bar. Omps plans to construct more cabins for additional lodging. For guests who want a more “back to basics” experience, Coolfont Resort grounds will soon offer tent camping with a nearby bath house. Future improvements will include an RV park and camp store.
In addition, the resort hosts an independent spa/pool building with heated saltwater pool, Berkeley Springs Brewing, and Crafts Adventures.
Berkeley Springs Brewing is a craft brewery and pub that makes its own beers, tea seltzers and kombucha on premises using Cacapon Mountain spring water.
From its base on the ground floor of the resort’s main building, Crafts Adventures schedules nearby river excursions and arranges hourly rental of paddle boards, kayaks and fishing gear for Coolfont’s own lake.
“Coolfont has a history from the 1960s where U.S. presidents, legislators, all kinds of honoraries, would come here to spend their time,” Hott said. “It was a little treasure to have somebody restore and rescue from being demolished.”
Small business owners in West Virginia can take advantage of WV SBDC business coach expertise at no cost. Business owners can get connected. Connect with a business coach through the Ask Me! Line:
Phone Number: 888-WVA-SBDC
Email Address: email@example.com