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Adam's Mark Hotel in Jacksonville, Fla., Changes Managers Again

Seventh Manager Since 2001

By Gregory Richards, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jan. 13--There's a new general manager at the Adam's Mark hotel -- yet again.

On Monday, Ben Soto became the seventh person to head the region's largest hotel, which opened in 2001. He takes over for Donald Dickhens, who managed the hotel since February 2002.

This territory is somewhat familiar for Soto, since he previously served as a regional vice president for the Adam's Mark chain, overseeing the downtown Jacksonville property and four others in the Southeast. But there was little need for a regional supervisor as the number of Adam's Mark hotels shrinks: Last week, St. Louis-based HBE Corp., the parent company of Adam's Mark, sold eight hotels for $236 million, and a ninth was sold earlier last year. HBE, so far, is keeping its Jacksonville property.

After those sales are complete, the Adam's Mark name will adorn only 14 hotels across the country.

Soto said Fred Kummer, HBE's founder, decided to fire Dickhens and have Soto fill his place. Soto said he's been with the company 5 1/2 years vs. Dickhens' two years. "Don's done a good job with us," Soto added.

No big changes -- or job cuts -- are in order at the Adam's Mark, Soto said. He will continue to build upon improvements under way in such areas as sales, marketing and customer service.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity," Soto said. "I enjoy interacting with customers and employees, and I especially like the opportunity to try to get more business into this hotel. It's a challenge but an exciting challenge."

Dickhens, meanwhile, is out looking for another hotel management job. "That's all I've done for 39 years," said the Ponte Vedra Beach resident.

The Jacksonville Adam's Mark and the rest of the hotel industry have been struggling to fill rooms in recent years, battling a soft economy. But travelers are beginning to return, Soto said. Business last year, for example, was "a little bit better" than anticipated. Still, the occupancy rate at the 966-room hotel was only about 40 percent in 2003. He hopes to boost occupancy to at least 50 percent this year.

News of Dickhens' dismissal filtered through the Jacksonville hotel community Monday.

"With the Adam's Mark being the Super Bowl headquarters hotel, you would have thought there wouldn't be any changes until after the game," said Irving Kass, who preceded Dickhens as manager of the Adam's Mark. But, he said, given the high turnover rate of managers at the hotel, "nothing surprises me."

Soto believes he will settle into his new role very soon. Coming from inside the Adam's Mark company means the learning curve isn't quite so steep.

On average, hotel general managers keep their jobs for three years, said Fred Pozin, president of the Jacksonville Hotel and Motel Association. Managers wanting to advance in their careers typically move to larger properties.

The Adam's Mark reorganization also resulted in a job shift for Laura Cagan. Previously, she was the regional director for advertising and promotion. That position was eliminated, and she is now the senior sales manager handling the military and government markets.

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(c) 2004, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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