|By Linda S. Morris, The Macon
TelegraphMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 24, 2013--A Canadian developer plans to buy the Ramada Plaza in downtown Macon, which has changed ownership several times in recent years, for about $3 million.
Rupinder "Ruby" Sangha, owner of Sangha Hospitality LLC, has an option to buy the 16-story, 297-room hotel at 108 First St. that's been vacant since February 2011. The sale is expected to close this fall, said Sangha's attorney Blake Lisenby, a partner with Sell & Melton in Macon.
Plans are to turn the hotel into a Park Inn by Raddison, a Canada-based chain that has started moving into the U.S., Lisenby said.
Sangha, a real estate developer in the Toronto area, has been working on making a deal for the property for more than a year, Lisenby said, "but financing has been impossible" during this economy.
On Thursday, the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, which supports getting the building back into use, agreed to help arrange financing for the acquisition and rehabilitation of the hotel through bonds for up to $9 million.
In addition to the $3.1 million purchase price, Sangha plans to spend another nearly $5.8 million that is expected to go into renovation costs, which would be covered by bond financing.
The authority "will be glad to issue the bonds" once they are sold by the Stern Agee brokerage firm, authority Chairman Chris Sheridan said.
No tax money is involved in the project.
Sangha is putting at least $2 million into the hotel in addition to what's being financed, Lisenby said. The buyer is leasing the building from the current owner and already has started making repairs on the hotel.
"He's done quite a bit of work and is already getting design plans done for the rehab and ordering furniture," Lisenby said.
The hotel is expected to employ 200 to 250 full- and part-time workers, he said.
In August 2011, current owner Alabama-based Black Diamond Hotel Group LLC bought the hotel for $2.5 million, but it never opened for business. Seven months after the purchase, the group put the property back on the market for $4.9 million.
Black Diamond bought the hotel from a Florida doctor, who purchased it at a foreclosure auction in 2010 for $2 million. The doctor shut it down in February 2011 due to a failing boiler system and aging pipes and it never reopened.
Sheridan said he thinks the new buyer will succeed where others have failed.
"He's willing to put his own money into it, and from what I've been told, he's a serious guy with a track record," Sheridan said.
Returning the hotel to its glory will be "a terrific boost for downtown in terms of bringing bigger conventions (to Macon)," he said.
It would be welcomed by the Macon Marriott City Center and by the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, he said.
Lisenby said he thinks perhaps some previous owners were not as serious about operating a hotel as his client.
"I think you had parties who were not interested in running a hotel," he said. "They were buying something to flip, and they just allowed the hotel to go into disrepair."
Sangha has developed some hotels in Canada and "plans to own and hold this hotel for the long term," Linsenby said.
While Sangha hopes to reopen the hotel by the end of the year, Lisenby said, "that's probably ambitious. He's just so excited."
"He's taken a great deal of personal interest in the project and not only financial equity but sweat equity that he's put into it," Lisenby said. "The community is certainly interested and invested and behind this project, and I'm hoping this time next year, we'll look back and we'll be full steam ahead."
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