|By Steve Tarter, Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 21, 2004 - PEORIA, Ill. -- Building a brand new hotel would have been a piece of cake compared to what Frank Pedulla went through.
President of the Radisson of Peoria hotel, 117 N. Western Ave., Pedulla was faced with the task of transforming the former Jumer's Castle Lodge with its popular Bavarian theme into a high-tech Radisson hotel.
When Pedulla and his wife Angie, who serves as hotel general manager, host an open house at the remodeled hotel-restaurant Wednesday, it will mark the completion of a $3.5 million renovation for a facility many view as a local landmark.
"We wanted to keep some of the heritage. That's how much respect we paid to the facility," said Pedulla, who bought the hotel after Jumer's Castle Lodge and four other Jumer-owned hotels in Illinois and Iowa went bankrupt in 1999.
The Western Avenue site has seen a lot of history over the years since Kramer's Drive In opened there in 1937. In 1960, Erwin Kramer sold the drive-in to D. James Jumer, who operated it under the Kramer name until 1970, when he built Jumer's Castle Lodge next door.
With its many antiques and German menu, the Jumer's name became synonymous with Old World elegance in the Peoria area. Recognition of that fact loomed large in Pedulla's renovation plans.
"This has been a landmark property since 1937, but the biggest mistake we could make would be to just sit on what Jumer did. You've got to adjust," he said.
Pedulla started by reducing the size of the restaurant, now called Flagstones. "We used to be able to seat 365 people. We've cut that down to 120 by design," he said.
Rodney Rogers is the new chef who brought some new dishes with him, said Pedulla, citing sea bass with raspberry sauce and banana creamed pancakes among the new items to be served. "We kept the popular European dishes but we expanded the fish selections and the number of dinner salads. Of course, we kept the cinnamon rolls," he said.
The look in the dining room is lighter and brighter but many of the old Jumer's touches are still in place, said Pedulla. "Now the stained glass pops," he said of windows retained from the former restaurant that are more visible with the new decor.
Other changes were more subtle. A banquet room once known as the Rhine Room is now called the Wine Room. Wines are still on display but all the room's chairs have been reupholstered.
"We kept the Library (another banquet room) intact. Everything you see in there -- chairs, carpet, wall coverings -- is new. All the books are still there but they've all been cleaned and dusted. We had a group from Caterpillar in recently for dinner and they loved it," said Pedulla.
While exterior work on the hotel started a year ago, interior renovation has only been going since March, he said. "We've had to renovate 125,000 square feet in six months," he said.
Pedulla saluted labor's role in the renovation. "Local workers and tradesmen played a big part. Eighty-five percent of the work was done by the union trades," he said.
While comprehensive plans were worked up in consultation with personnel from Minneapolis-based Radisson Hotels & Resorts, suggestions made by local workers often made the difference, said Pedulla.
The lobby is brighter -- from carpeting to ceiling -- with new furniture in place while a new computer system now serves the front office. Antiques that once filled the lobby and main-floor hallways are now scattered throughout the hotel, said Pedulla. Former Jumer attractions like the black bear and the knight-in-armor are no longer on display but will find a home at the hotel in the future, he vowed.
The revamped Blackbear Lounge is now the Stein Lounge, displaying authentic German steins in a remodeled atmosphere -- complete with big-screen TV. A pool table has been added for guest use, said Pedulla. The hotel pool area was also overhauled with brighter colors and new tile installed, he said.
Rooms were another challenge for Pedulla. The many different room styles Jumer's offered had to conform to Radisson standards, he said. The seven fireplace suites remain but have been totally remodeled. "We kept the brick and ceramics around the fireplace," said Pedulla.
"We tried to protect the European flavor of the rooms," said Pedulla, noting that big headboards and high-backed chairs were deployed for full effect. "We kept the crown moulding (in the rooms) but we made it lighter," he said.
The hotel's renovated 168 rooms -- down from the 175 available before -- were changed out "right down to the bare walls," said Pedulla. All rooms now feature two separate phone lines as well as computer hook-ups for both wireless and plug-in, he said.
"The guy who travels all the time wants to stay in a place like this," he said.
"We're not competing with the bargain hotels," added Pedulla, noting that the basic room rate stands at $109, only $2 more than the hotel's pre-renovation rate.
But all the changes aren't reflected in brighter colors and new fixtures, he said. "We've always provided service but we're taking service to a different level at the Radisson," said Pedulla, crediting his partners, an investment group headed by Bloomington developer Larry Hundman, who came aboard about two years ago.
"They've been very patient. They know that the full-service hotel market has been soft in this area. But now we feel we can compete with any facility downstate," he said.
"People ask how they can help. All we ask is that give us an opportunity to serve them. We need the business. This hotel is truly a great asset. Now it's up to the region to step up," said Pedulla.
The full-service hotel industry has had to deal with significant changes over the years, including an explosion in the number of budget hotels to serve the needs of U.S. travelers as well as an increase in the use of the Internet.
Hotel chains like Radisson and Holiday Inn are reaching out to an increasingly large number of travelers online, Pedulla said.
Online bookings at his hotel are up 65 percent in the last year, said Sami Qureshi, general manager of the Holiday Inn City Centre in downtown Peoria.
Full-service hotels have had to deal with other changes. Room telephones were once a major revenue source for hotels but today their impact is minimal, he said. "Everyone uses a cell phone and I don't blame them," said Qureshi.
Another change has been the decline of walk-in business. "(Walk-ins) used to be common but now the business traveler has a tremendous amount of choices," he said.
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