As a South Dakota town sits poised for expansion, a local couple is providing new visitors a place to stay at a home-away-from-home that’s remained golden amidst big changes.
Room by room, the old offices of Lead’s epic Homestake Mine are being repurposed to offer what owners describe as an upscale urban feel with nearly 150 years of history.
The Lofts in Lead provide a place to unpack for a weekend away or a longer stay – each is a one-bedroom/one-bath apartment around 700 square feet. All fully-furnished, co-owner Jana Kenzy says she wants visitors to have all the comforts of home, including a kitchen, living, and dining space.
“It’s decorated like your home – we have beautiful art on the walls, we have cozy blankets on the couches. You walk in and it feels comforting and warm, it’s just not sterile like a hotel where everything is the same,” she said. “And I made a point of making sure that each unit was completely different in décor.”
The project comes as the Airbnb-style of hospitality is taking off across the country – travelers preferring more space and personal accommodations over pricier hotels with limited options, especially during extended stays.
“A lot of people are avoiding the hotels and motels because they want that extra luxury of a living room, not just a bed with a closet and a TV… especially if they’re traveling with kids at all,” said Jana’s husband and co-owner Chris Kenzy. “They want to have a place to unwind.”
Prices fluctuate, but they say it’s usually around $90 a night, or $50 a night for month-long stays. They currently have eight units on the third floor of the building available, with additional units in the works on the second floor. The first floor, on which Jana and Chris are working to create a blank canvas for the next tenants, will be 5,000 square feet of commercial space.
A town of about 3,000 people, Lead has seen its population stagnate since the 1990s, with the Homestake Mine’s closure in 2002 hitting the area hard. Once host to the largest gold mine in North America, hundreds of employees lost their jobs, and many left in search of work elsewhere. The Great Recession just a few years later was the second punch.
But Lead is now on the map for scientists across the world, thanks to the new Sanford Underground Research Facility being constructed inside the old Homestake Mine. The facility will conduct experiments, in coordination with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago, to study the properties of subatomic particles called neutrinos.
Sanford Underground Research Facility says the project is estimated to create about 1,800 jobs at the peak of construction operations – and lead to nearly a billion dollars in total economic output in South Dakota. Operations kicked off at a groundbreaking ceremony last summer, and there’s excitement about what incoming jobs and visitors could do to transform the area. Chris says he and Jana are ready to help participate in its growth.
“I give Lead a few more years, and it’s going to be a totally different town,” he said. “We’re just being patient and letting that happen, and are ready to be a part of that now.”
The old mine and its Main Street office aren’t the only parts of town taking on new roles. Chris and Jana own several properties in the area that they’ve renovated and now rent to new tenants, mostly in the city’s historic district.
“We especially like to take something old and historical that we see needs some extra love, and turn it around and bring it back to life, with the intention of keeping the integrity of the historic quality of it,” Jana said.
“Lead is such a cool town. I foresee it being probably one of the coolest towns in South Dakota. It’s got all the right ingredients.” – Chris Kenzy
Repurposing the old Homestake office has been one challenge the couple says they’ve been looking for. Partition walls were removed in some units to provide more open space and new appliances were installed. Cosmetic work was tackled to provide fresh floors and ceilings, tape, and texture. Parking is also available, and they’re working to install in-house laundry facilities for guests.
Chris says Jana’s vision for the interior design really brought about the finishing touches that make The Lofts what they are. Each unit is filled thoughtfully with handpicked items – from magazines to cozy blankets to cooking supplies.
“I buy things that I love,” she said. “I knew the vibe that I wanted to create, where we still honor the historic value of the units, but we brought in that homey-fresh feel as well.”
Almost everything is purchased locally, with a lot of items from area antique and thrift shops. The whole family got involved, too – the couple’s two daughters, 12-year-old Savannah and 9-year-old Grace, and son, Max, 4, help make décor selections and stock units for future guests.
Chris says he hopes their work now is part of a larger movement spreading in the area.
“[Lead has] been in hibernation mode since the mine shut down, and it’s getting revitalized,” he said. “My hope is, for these old homes that are just really beautiful, old structures, that people come in and they revitalize them… and just make the town a really vibrant community again, with just an upbeat energetic twist that it has never seen before.”
This art isn’t new to Chris and Jana. With a background in construction, Chris previously helped develop ski properties in Colorado. Both from Rapid City, they moved back to the Black Hills in 2003 and built the Terry Peak Chalets near Lead. Chris says elements of the Chalets are heavily inspired by his time in Colorado ski country – with heavy timbers and a beefy industrial vibe. They now house more than 100 people and have just finished renovating a pavilion to host all kinds of events, from family reunions to weddings.
Jana taught public school in Rapid City for eight years, then became director of Buena Vista Montessori School before choosing to focus full-time on their real estate projects this past year. It’s their ability to work as a team, they say, that makes the process successful – and has allowed them to learn even more about each other after 14 years of marriage.
“I think there’s a mutual respect, and, honestly, we don’t even differ very much anymore,” Jana said. “It’s more exciting, because we bring ideas to each other that we both are energized by.”
We can walk into a brand new space that looks completely in disarray and needs major rehab, and we can say we have all these ideas.”
One ingredient to their recipe, they say, is an important compromise: Chris gets the final say on structural and exterior elements – Jana makes the final call on a project’s interior. The policy has helped give each of them space to get creative and follow new ideas.
“I think we built from that compromise the foundation for how well we really work together, actually. Because we really learned to trust each other in the process, and we loved what the other one came up with every time,” said Jana.
An important element of their businesses is introducing people to the area – encouraging them to explore Lead and big sister Deadwood among the region’s more well-known attractions. Opportunities for skiing, hiking, and rock climbing impress adventure junkies by day. Local gambling and nightlife offer extra fun when the sun goes down.
“I think that’s what makes Chris and I work together so well. We can both walk into a space and both of us have just had a vision. And our vision jives together really nicely.” – Jana Kenzy
“We have so many beautiful spaces and places in this Black Hills region alone, so we really try to market that unique niche.” said Jana. Chris agreed.
“The Black Hills in themselves are extremely unique, because it is a bucket list destination – we have people from all over the world who come here for the Black Hills,” he said. “We, and many other people that have similar properties, are fortunate enough to host them.”
As Lead plays host to visitors traveling to this little valley town for both business and pleasure, Chris and Jana are ready to see what happens next.
“I think Lead is really a charming, quaint little snow town, and I see so much more possibility,” said Jana. “And I think that Lead and Deadwood are doing awesome things to bring in more opportunities and possibilities to expose Lead, and enhance it to become the little gem we all know it’s meant to be.”
For more information, visit theloftsinlead.com.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
- Kitchens are stocked with cookbooks, appliances, and utensils for a home-cooked
meal away from home.
- Magazines and books are available for reading material to help unwind during a night in.
- Cozy blankets are there for an afternoon nap.
“I wanted it to feel just like you were able to sit down on the couch, read a good book, brew yourself some tea or coffee, and have everything you would need in a really cozy, clean environment.” – Jana Kenzy