|By Stacy Forster, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 25, 2005 - MADISON -- A newly created list of hotels that may be used by state employees when traveling on official business is drawing fire from Wisconsin's lodging industry, with some hotel operators arguing they didn't get enough time to complete the necessary paperwork.
The list -- which went into effect July 18 -- includes about 325 hotels that state employees should use, leaving more than 3,300 hotels and other lodging properties out of the mix for state business.
Trisha Pugal, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association, said she's heard from hotel managers whose properties are not included and want another chance to compete for the business.
"There wasn't enough time," Pugal said. "We would like another opportunity for those who are unable to get in within the short turnaround to provide more properties so state employees have more opportunities."
Georgia Thompson, who manages travel programs for the Department of Administration, said the state sent contract bid paperwork to more than 3,700 hotels, inns and bed & breakfast locations throughout the state on April 21. The 325 replies that were received by the May 12 deadline were put on the list, Thompson said.
"We have hard due dates for business proposals, due at set date at set time, and anything after that time, we're not allowed to include them," Thompson said.
Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) called the process "unfair" and plans to ask state officials to re-open the bidding process. Cowles predicted the list would at least double in size if hotels were given a few more weeks.
"My guess is, there are hundreds of places that would like to be included, but the small mom and pop operations didn't have enough time," Cowles said.
Because of state procurement rules, the list can't be revisited until early next year, said Pat Farley, administrator of enterprise operations for the state Department of Administration. Representatives from the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association have made suggestions about how the process can be improved the next time around, he said.
The state was pleased with the range of bids it received -- from individuals operating bed & breakfast inns to large corporations -- but "if we can increase the turnaround time and that will increase participation, we'll look at it," Farley said.
The plan was to establish consistent rates and negotiate with hotels contracts similar to those the state has with other businesses, he added.
Not all hotels could ever be part of such a list, Pugal said. For one, many locations don't have great demand for state workers. Cost is also a factor -- the state pays $72 a night for a hotel in Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties, and $62 a night for hotels in the rest of Wisconsin.
Use of the list is expected to save the state $100,000 a year, because hotels will be locked into a rate that is in some cases lower than what they were previously charging state workers, Farley added.
Tammy Hahn, general manager of the Knickerbocker Hotel, said she was enthusiastic about tapping into the state market. The hotel traditionally offered the $72 rate, but state employees didn't know about it.
Andrew Ross, general manager of the Astor Hotel in Milwaukee, was surprised to hear his hotel wasn't included even though he submitted the "detailed" paperwork. A Department of Administration spokesman said the state never received a bid from the Astor.
Ross said the Astor offers a state rate of $69 a night.
Tom Ziarnik, general manager for the Doubletree Hotel in Madison, didn't put in a bid. The hotel gets steady business at its downtown location and it didn't make sense to promise that lower rate when the hotel can charge more for those rooms, he said.
The list also includes hotels that charge more than the state reimbursement rates. The most expensive hotel listed is Milwaukee's Hotel Metro, which offers rooms for $169 a night.
Farley said state employees can stay at more expensive hotels if no other rooms were available and a supervisor approves.
Steven Walters of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
$72: State nightly rate for a hotel in Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties
$62: State nightly hotel rate for the rest of Wisconsin
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