May 09–Just three years after the city sold the Aberdeen Convention Center to the highest bidder at auction, it has been purchased by the adjoining hotel, the Ramkota Best Western.
"It just makes sense for them to have it," Jeff Lamont, CEO and founder of Lamont Cos., said.
Lamont was the high bidder in 2014 at $475,000.
A purchase agreement was reached last week between Lamont Cos. and Regency Midwest Ventures, doing business as Best Western Ramkota Hotel. The sale amount has not been released, and the Brown County register of deeds did not have a property transfer Monday.
While Lamont Cos. handled scheduling events at the convention center after the purchase, it still needed to honor Ramkota's lease, which expired May 1. That meant the Ramkota never stopped physically operating the convention center, Grismer said.
The purchase should have no effect on guests, Grismer said. The Ramkota was contacting those with existing contracts Monday. It plans to honor all existing contacts as closely as possible, Grismer said.
In other words, it's not much of a transition, he said.
"It's just a transition of whom they'll be talking to. They have the space they wanted, they have the dates they wanted, it's just who they are talking to about the facility they have booked for the dates they had booked," Grismer said.
Most events, especially for wedding season, are booked at least a year in advance, he said.
Improvements to the convention center are likely, but they probably won't be immediate.
"I would say that it is reasonable to assume that updates in the convention center will happen sometime after the next 12 months," Grismer said.
Competition, event center talk
Lamont Cos. owns the Dakota Event Center. Despite that, the company is not worried about being in direct competition with the Aberdeen Convention Center.
"We all hope to have enough business. We've all made it work in the past so I don't think it'll change," Lamont said.
And the feeling is mutual.
Grismer said while the centers have been competitors in the past, they've always been friendly.
"One of the important things to look at as a community is the quality of the facilities and venues you have and your ability to meet the needs of the public. And we're competing with other communities all the time on that level," he said. "Whether it's food and beverage, lodging or meetings or conventions, we're competing as a community."
The Ramkota started an extensive remodeling project in late 2013. Those renovations, Aberdeen having two convention centers and talk about a new events center are all just parts of something bigger, Grismer said.
"Which is, how does Aberdeen become more and more relevant to consumers and buyers and visitors?" he said.
The nature of what an events center is has changed, Grismer said. Lamont's Dakota Event Center and the Aberdeen Convention Center are, for all practical purposes, meeting, conference and convention facilities. Neither can host, for instance, a monster truck rally or dirt bike race, he said.
"It's a chicken and egg, cart and horse deal. If you built it they will come. If you don't build it, will they not come. Where is that magic formula? The bigger thing is about identity, really. It's who do we as a community want to be, what type of events do we want, what type of facilities do we want? That's a public question, that's not a Randy Grismer, hotel GM question," he said.
The Ramada Hotel and Convention Center on the east side of town closed in 2015. However, there are indications that the property could be transformed into a multi-purpose facility with hotel rooms, a restaurant, retail spaces and meeting spaces. Specifically, those features are listed on signs posted at the Ramada.
Trevor Lien, co-owner of the property, said Friday that there has been some interest concerning space within the building. But there's still no formal word about the potential of future construction.
Grismer said there are now plans to improve the exterior of the Ramkota Best Western. Pending approve of permits, that work will start in the next week or two, he said.
The Aberdeen Convention Center was built in conjunction with the Ramkota and city in 1984, Grismer said.
City leaders at the time thought there was a need for convention center space, so they took steps toward building a city-owned property. Through the agreement, the Ramkota did not pay rent, but took care of maintenance and upkeep of the convention center parking lot.
"It was always meant to be a public/private partnership," Grismer said.
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