|By John Gillie, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 22, 2005 - A Tacoma hotel that played a key role in Tacoma's early 1980s civic renaissance is at a financial crossroads.
On the market for more than a year, the former Tacoma Dome Ramada Inn has been the object of several purchase offers, but the hotel's aging owner says none of the offers has met his requirements.
Now the hotel, stripped of all its identifying signage and without any national hotel chain affiliation, muddles on with sparse daily business in its 160 rooms. Gene Ferryman, the building's owner for the last 15 years, said he employs as many as 35 workers at the hotel.
The News Tribune spoke to three different investors interested in buying the hotel. All talked about the high cost of getting the landmark back into shape.
Built shortly after the neighboring Tacoma Dome, the 21-year-old hotel badly needs renovation, a new chain affiliation and a renewed marketing campaign, said one investor who tried unsuccessfully to buy it last summer.
"Frankly, anyone who buys it is going to have to gut it and start over with everything from a new roof and heating and ventilation equipment to carpets, beds and bath fixtures," said a prospective buyer who didn't want to be identified.
Ferryman, 72, claimed the hotel is doing well and has a bright future. He said he'd personally lead the hotel's revival, but he's getting too old to do so.
"That's for somebody who's younger and has got the energy to move on," he said.
The Vancouver, Wash.-based Ferryman once owned as many as 10 hotels in the region, but he's reduced his properties to just five including the Tacoma hotel, which he has renamed the Hotel by the Dome.
Ferryman's asking price for the six-story property at 2611 E. E St. is $7 million. That's in line with Pierce County's assessed value of $6,173,200 for the hotel and the ground beneath it, but potential investors say the property's age and need for renovation makes it worth far less.
Federal Way's Primestar Investments reportedly considered buying the hotel to add to its string of six hotels, but couldn't reach agreement on a price that would allow them to make money.
The hotel has several structural shortcomings that will make even a renovated hotel a tougher sell, said one potential buyer.
The main problems relate to room sizes. The rooms are somewhat smaller than those in more modern hotels. And the ceilings are about six inches shorter than standard. Baths aren't as commodious as those in newer hotels. "You can retile the baths, put in new fixtures and lights, and you've still got a bath that's smaller than people are used to getting," a prospective buyer said.
But Ferryman insists that the hotel is in good shape. He recently had the exterior repainted, and he's periodically replaced room furnishings, he said.
The hotel's location -- just across a parking lot from the Dome, a block from Freighthouse Square and the Link light-rail line, and a block or so from the planned LeMay car museum -- make it a desirable property, he said.
"The civic leadership in Tacoma has done a terrific job of making the city more attractive with the new convention center, the light-rail line and the new museums," he said. "They deserve a lot of credit for making Tacoma a much more attractive place."
Ferryman said he's looking at several offers now, but "none that excites me," he said.
He plans to continue operating the hotel and to seek a new affiliation. Without an affiliation, the hotel is not listed on major travel Web sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Yahoo.
Ferryman or any new owner will have to counter a raft of bad reviews posted on travel sites by hotel customers and reviewers.
The hotel has generally garnered poor ratings and scathing reviews.
"I stayed in this hotel while visiting a college in the area," wrote one traveler from San Diego on Tripadvisor.com. "This is the worst hotel I have ever stayed at. It was nasty and dirty."
Another traveler called the hotel "a flea bag," and yet another headlined his online review "Ghetto Hotel."
Of the six reviews posted to the site, only one scored higher than one star. This glowing five-star rating led another site user to write, "Whoever wrote the excellent review for this place must be an employee."
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