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Rafiki Hotels Plans to Reopen 156-Room Howard Johnson Inn in Burlington, Iowa

By John Van Nostrand, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, IowaMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 19, 2009--Alnoor Rahemtulla has a one-track mind when it comes to re-opening the Howard Johnson Inn at 2759 Mount Pleasant St.

"When you buy a business, the things you address are convenience for customers," he said from his office within the hotel.

Rahemtulla, and his parent company Rafiki Hotels, purchased the 156-room hotel that closed with little warning last summer under controversy. After it closed, people who had reserved the banquet rooms for wedding reception or other mass-attended events, either did not get their deposit back, or had to wait for months for Howard Johnson's corporate office to take action on their claim.

Knowing the troubles the hotel had with people after it closed, Rahemtulla's plan is to bring back the hotel stronger and better -- so much that people will forget those irritating moments from the past.

"Our customers will see there is a change," he said.

That change is expected to be open to the public the end of July or early August.

Rafiki Hotels, with its office in New Jersey, has locations in Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada.

Last year, Rahemtulla said he was researching additional properties in the Midwest. Negotiations with available properties in Missouri fell through. After researching with commercial realtors, he learned of the Howard Johnson in Burlington.

"It was a coincidence, looking for a place in the Midwest," he said. "We came out and liked it. This is a great property. There is no reason not to do well here."

The building goes back to the early 1960s and even though the inn has been remodeled since, Rahemtulla said he wanted to start over with the interior, accessories and decorating.

Of the 156 rooms, 76 are ready to use. Sometime in August, another 24 rooms will be ready to use. Rahemtulla said the remaining 56 rooms will be available, but at a future date.

"I want to build this to what it was and more," he said. "I want to start with a clean plate."

Work includes replacing climate-control systems and improving the sauna and whirlpool.

Rahemtulla is doing more than bedspreads and bathroom tile. The hotel's entire kitchen will be renovated.

"I want to bring back the restaurant," he said.

Rahemtulla said the restaurant will have more of a quick, informal and easy menu and atmosphere.

"Our focus will be on the banquets," he said.

Banquets and other large-attended events are held at Pzazz Convention Center, next door to Howard Johnson. Rahemtulla said he does not see Pzazz as competition as long as his facility offers something that people can't get at Pzazz.

He sees Catfish Bend Casino, also next door, as a drawing card to his place.

"We did not want to shortchange ourselves," he said.


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Copyright (c) 2009, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

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