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Luxury Lockup: Family turns former jail into short-term rental

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Over 30 years after its last use as a jail, a 91-year-old Dallas County building has a new lease on life as a short-term rental – allowing its visitors to leave anytime they like.

The Dallas County Jail Hotel debuted May 1 in Buffalo at 111 W. Main St., just off the town square, said owner Patty Miller. The opening follows roughly 14 months of sporadic renovations on the 1930-built, 1,200-square-foot former jail, she said.

The rental property listed on Airbnb.com is a seven-bed, two-bathroom space that maintains elements of its past life, including a former prisoner booking area transformed into a living room. The bedrooms have gotten quite the upgrade, as well, featuring memory foam mattresses for the six bunks. The one-time solitary confinement cell is now a bathroom complete with a walk-in shower and makeup vanity. A partition was removed from the main bedroom to accommodate a queen size bed in what Miller dubs the cell suite. She estimates the former jail’s prisoner bed capacity was 10.

“I instantly thought what an awesome Airbnb that would be,” Miller said. “People ask, ‘How did you think of that?’ I don’t know, it’s just seemed like an extra fun idea.”

She bought the jail for an undisclosed price from William and Donna Tatum in 2019. The Tatums at one time planned to renovate the building themselves after the prior jail moved elsewhere in town but never did, Miller said.

Miller said she incorporated vintage decor of the 1930s and 1940s into the design. She bought several decorations from Market 116 LLC, a home goods store in Buffalo, but said other items were sourced from out of town. That included a stair rail for the bathroom she saw online that required a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I wanted it to feel somewhat authentic to the age that the jail is. The front area is a little more fancy and decorated,” she said, noting she also paid homage to the Great Depression in the back bedroom area. “I’ve got whiskey barrels for decoration. I’m assuming maybe some bootleggers spent time there.”

Family project
She said husband Marty Miller did most of the renovations, although the couple sought out help for plumbing and sandblasting the walls. Son Logan Miller and daughter Lyndi Miller-Tiggemann also assisted.

“It’s kind of been a family project,” Patty Miller said.

The project was tackled gradually as money became available, she said, adding it was all handled out of pocket.

“To be honest, I’ve not even figured that out yet,” Miller said of their investment in the venture.

While Miller’s husband isn’t professionally involved in construction – the couple raise beef cows on their farm in Long Lane – she said he previously worked on renovating her office in Strafford, where she also owns promotional products retailer B&B Sales Co.

The family also has a professional connection to the jail. Marty Miller worked overnight shifts as a deputy at the facility for around seven years in the 1980s, she said. The current Dallas County jail moved in 1990 to 204 S. Poplar St.

Added attraction
Tanya Watson, executive director of the Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce, said she’s yet to visit with Patty Miller about the former jail but plans to soon discuss promotional opportunities. It holds good potential as a tourist attraction, she said.

“It’s definitely one-of-a-kind. Something like that will draw a lot of tourism,” Watson said. “I’ve never heard of anyone refurbishing a jail into an Airbnb before. That will definitely be something we can market in our community.”

Watson said it’s exciting to see the Millers take an interest in restoring and repurposing an old building in town.

“They’ve put some really good thought into it and made it look great,” Watson said. “It really maximizes the space that was there.”

Miller said she accepts walk-in tours for the rental and hopes it will draw more people to Dallas County. The uniqueness and eight-person capacity could appeal to bridal and bachelorette parties, she said.

“A bachelorette party, you can come stay before you’re actually locked up for life,” Miller said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of puns with a jail you can use.”

Setting expectations
Even though her vision for the former jail was clear in her mind, Miller said she still had doubts about what she was doing and if the work would ever finish.

“Lots of second thoughts, but you pray about it and get what you think’s the right answer, and you forge on,” she said. “It was a long way to get there, but it totally turned out exactly how I thought.”

She’s listed the property on Airbnb.com starting at $156 per night with a two-night minimum. Airbnb Inc. has a 3% host fee for each booking, Miller said. Reservations started to come in days prior to opening, Miller said, adding she has no first-year financial estimates for her new venture.

“I have five bookings and several of them are weddings on the square,” she said April 30. “I just feel like we need to get open and see what it’s going to do. I’m confident that it’s going to book, and I have no worries that it’s not.”

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