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City of Decatur, Illinois Hoping the Right Kind of Hoteliers Will Be Highest Bidder
 at Court Ordered Sale of the 370 room Decatur Conference Center and Hotel
By Tony Reid, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 8, 2007 - DECATUR -- The Decatur Conference Center and Hotel is up for sale.

A court-ordered auction is set for Thursday, Aug. 16, and will be staged in the hotel's 55,000-square-foot convention center. The replacement value of the property, which dates to the mid-1970s, is described as $36 million in auction sale ads to start running June 17 in the Herald & Review.

What will happen to the hotel after the sale isn't clear. The business is being sold as a going concern, with sale advertising literature touting its 370 guest rooms, 21 suites, indoor pool and fitness center and massive convention space.

The sale is being conducted by Chicago-based auctioneers and real estate experts Rick Levin & Associates Inc., the same firm that sold Decatur's spectacular Powers-Jarvis mansion for $400,000 in 2005.

"Obviously, the property could have other uses, but I like to think a logical use would be as a going concern," said auctioneer Rick Levin. "My marching orders are just to get the highest price."

Those orders come from Central Illinois Bank, which has taken legal action to force the sale. The bank's Champaign-based attorney, Joseph Chamley, said he did not have the details in hand Thursday when asked how much the bank was owed in connection with the hotel, but previous news reports have listed figures of more than $12 million.

Chamley would not describe the forced sale as being the result of foreclosure proceedings, saying only that it was a "court-ordered sale." He added: "Judge (Thomas) Little in your circuit court there in Macon County has entered an order saying it's got to be sold, go sell it. This is being done at the bank's request."

The sale is the latest chapter in the hotel's recent turbulent history. Decatur developer John Cardwell and businessman and investor James Randall had once owned the property together, but they split their business partnership three years ago, and the hotel was left under the management of Cardwell's Real Estate Investors of Decatur LLC.

A former Holiday Inn, the hotel was withdrawn from the franchise in 2005, and some time later, Central Illinois Bank, saying it was owed money on loans that were not being repaid, threatened foreclosure.

Randall and his company, Decatur Hospitality Services LLC, came back in September 2006 to take control of the hotel and brought in new management. There were hopes of turning the business around, and in January staff talked of the hotel being on the best "financial footing" it had seen in years.

But now it appears that footing has slipped or was not firm enough for the bank's liking. Randall's attorney could not be reached for comment, and court documents now describe Randall as the "receiver," which is someone appointed by a court to oversee and take charge of a property.

Chamley, who referred questions about Randall's status to his attorney, said being a receiver was not the same as being an owner, and he was eager to point out that the court-ordered sale was not directed at Randall.

"No, absolutely not," he said. "Mr. Randall, as receiver, has done everything we've asked him to do. He is fulfilling his duties as receiver." Chamley also said his status as receiver would not preclude Randall from bidding on the hotel himself.

Now it's up to Rick Levin & Associates to sell the building and its surrounding lands, and Levin said the sale is being advertised locally, nationally and internationally. He urged Decatur city leaders who wanted to see the business carry on as a hotel to help find the right kind of buyer to bid at the auction.

"Perhaps the powers that be in town can help us by finding a buyer who will do what the city wants," he said. "I know the bank wants to be a good corporate citizen, and I certainly hope that whoever does buy the hotel makes sure it remains an asset to the community."

Tony Reid can be reached at treid@herald.com or 421-7977.

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Copyright (c) 2007, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

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