|By Rick Smith, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids,
IowaMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 7, 2008 - CEDAR RAPIDS -- The out-of-state owner of the city's lone downtown hotel Friday reported that the 275-room hotel enjoys plenty of business and is hustling to make renovations required for it to keep its Crowne Plaza flag.
Peter Mathon, spokesman for the Atlanta-based Kronos Hotels LLC, commented as a fresh question arose about the hotel's diligence in paying bills. In this instance, the problem involved payroll checks, a problem Mathon acknowledged Friday and blamed on "glitches" he said had been resolved.
Kate Brammer, a front desk clerk, found out Wednesday that her two-week paycheck had been returned by her bank the previous day for insufficient funds.
Mathon said Friday such problems affected only a small percentage of the 140 employees in the last few payroll cycles. He said the hotel was paying a $30 bonus to employees and any extra bank charges.
"I told them I won't be coming back tomorrow," said Brammer, who accepted a position with another company.
She said some of her former co-workers have had paychecks returned for insufficient funds more than once.
"One friend, it was the third time it happened to her," Brammer said. "They have families to support." Mathon acknowledged the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel has been trying to stay on a timeline to renovate the property since Kronos Hotels purchased it June 13, 2007. Both the InterContinental Hotels Group, the parent of Crowne Plaza hotels, and the city of Cedar Rapids require the owner to renovate the hotel to Crowne Plaza standards, and the city's agreement with the owner expected those renovations to be complete in a year.
Mathon said "hiccups" along the way have complicated the renovation schedule, but he said the renovation is now at full speed and being made every step of the way with the approval and oversight of the InterContinental Hotels Group.
"IHG has been part of this all along and they have absolutely no problem with it," he said.
Mathon said anyone can see the hotel renovation is well under way. Half the work should be done this month, he said.
Attention is paid to the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel and not its Cedar Rapids competitors for two reasons: One, the hotel is of huge importance to downtown health, Doug Neumann, president/ CEO of the Downtown District, said Friday. And two, the hotel is entangled with the city of Cedar Rapids because the city owns the land under it, the air above the land and the attached ballroom, the interior of which the hotel is responsible for keeping up as part of its lease with the city.
Patrick DePalma, chairman of the city's Five Seasons Facilities Commission, said Friday that the commission had been reassured recently by the hotel's operations manager, David Hockenberry, that the hotel is moving ahead to meet its requirements with Crowne Plaza and the city.
DePalma noted the hotel's year-old lease with the city requires the hotel owner to upgrade the hotel to Crowne Plaza standards in one year. But DePalma doesn't anticipate the city taking action when the deadline passes this month.
"The last option we want to pursue is the city owning a hotel," he said.
He noted that the hotel's business is good and that occupancy rate is in the 70 percent range, a number Hockenberry confirmed Friday and said was good in what he called a "down market." Hockenberry said the hotel has spent $100,000 on roof repairs and $22,000 to replace a kitchen floor before picking up the pace on remodeling and refurnishing rooms. On Friday, two floors of the hotel were closed for renovation, he said.
Nonetheless, the facilities commission's DePalma said Friday the hotel's "payment record is not something we're happy with." A check of Linn County court records indicates that six local vendors, including a florist, a car rental agency and a computer services company, had gone to court for money owned them by the hotel. In January, the city threatened the hotel when it fell behind on $65,000 in payments.
The hotel's Hockenberry noted that some vendors require the hotel to pay in cash because of some past problems paying bills.
The Downtown District's Neumann on Friday said the district has been "disappointed" with the hotel.
"It's an incredibly important piece of what we're trying to do, and that's why the lack of progress has been disappointing," Neumann said.
At the same time, DePalma said he believes the problem isn't with the local hotel, but with the corporate office.
On another front, two women who served in upper management at the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel recently sued the company, alleging discrimination.
The lawsuits indicate the hotel has had three different general managers and one interim general manager in the year since it was acquired by Kronos Hotels LLC last June.
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