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Receiver, DePalma Hotel Corp., Selects the Ramada Flag for the
 215-room Grand Prairie Hotel and Convention Center in
 Hutchinson, Kansas

By John Green, The Hutchinson News, Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

October 01, 2010 -- Hutchinson once more has a Ramada-franchised hotel.

The Grand Prairie Hotel and Convention Center, 1400 N. Lorraine, has joined the Wyndham Hotel Group and been renamed the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center.

It's the latest shift in the history of the 215-bed hotel that first opened as a Holiday Inn franchise in the mid-1970s, and that operated as a Ramada Inn through the 1990s.

The DePalma Hotel Corp., Arlington, Texas, has managed the property since November 2008, when it was appointed receiver after the owner, Omaha-based HPA Associates, ran into financial trouble and couldn't make its loan payments.

The DePalma group has been pursuing a franchise since it took over, in order to tap into the benefits of a nationwide chain that being an independent hotel couldn't offer.

President and CEO Joseph DePalma, a 40-year veteran of the industry, interviewed several franchisers before choosing the Ramada brand, according to a company news release.

"We've been working on it for a few months," said General Manager Mark Ahrens in Hutchinson, of the Ramada agreement. "We just feel its better for the hotel to have a franchise brand on it."

As part of the Wyndham Hotel Group, the Hutchinson property will benefit from that company's nationwide 800-number booking services, as well as the hotel groups rewards program.

"It has a very good loyalty program," Ahrens said, which allows patrons to collect points toward discounted stays or amenities for each visit.

The convention center wing of the hotel will also benefit, Ahrens said, from the franchise's group sales department.

"Maybe we'll pick up some national things on that side of it," he said.

The property has six months to complete a "property improvement plan" in order to meet the Ramada franchises' standards.

"We've got some things in action now, but the majority have been finalized," Ahrens said. "We've got a little time over the winter to get the rest of the improvements done."

Those improvements include filling in an area that was formerly part of the hotel's water park, which the hotel owners closed down in 2008 but never redeveloped.

"It will become an open area for guests, and to use as an overflow area if we need it to do lunch or something with meeting space," he said.

The hotel and convention center will continue under the same management, with the same number of employees, Ahrens said. The Grand Slam Sports Bar and Grill will also remain at the property, providing a full bar and meal service for dinner.

"All we're doing is putting the Ramada flag on it," he said.

The hotel first opened in the mid-1970s as a Holiday Inn. It lost that affiliation in 1988 when it failed to meet the chain's standards for quality, according to prior reports in The Hutchinson News. After filing its first bankruptcy in 1989, the hotel operated for a period of time as an independent.

In the early 1990s, the hotel became a Ramada Inn.

In 1999, East Coast developer James Licata bought the property and began working with the city to develop a convention center connected to the hotel.

Financial problems, however, led to a second bankruptcy in 2002. Mortgage-holder Brotherhood Bank and Trust, Kansas City, Kan., became the owner, and the hotel returned to independent status as the Hutchinson Plaza Hotel and Convention Center.

In 2003, two hotel developers offered competing proposals for a convention center using city-backed revenue bonds paid off through a long-term bed tax. The city awarded Omaha developer David Slattery the project in the summer of 2004.

The $3.8 million convention center was on top of a $10 million renovation of the then-218-room hotel, including developing a 20,000-square-foot space-themed indoor water park.

Slattery operated the hotel until 2008, when First Westroads Bank of Omaha took legal action against him and HPA Associates to collect more than $16 million owed and the hotel was placed into receivership.

FYI The Ramada Hotel & Conference Center Hutchinson will be presenting highlights of its future plans at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Chamber of Commerce Business After-Hours hosted at the hotel.

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To see more of The Hutchinson News or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.hutchnews.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Hutchinson News, Kan.

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