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Without a Name - Does a Hotel Suffer an Identity Crisis?

By Eric Heyl, The Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sept. 08, 2010--Buildings may lack a personality; they're absent a soul. But the lack of those qualities does not make them immune from having an identity crisis.

I discovered this Tuesday at what could be called the Imposter Inn -- the Downtown hotel formerly known as the Hilton.

Strategically located at the front of the Golden Triangle on Commonwealth Place for half a century, the hotel abruptly became orphaned last week when the Hilton chain pulled its name from the place.

In the hospitality industry, that's akin to exercising the nuclear option.

Why was the hotel Nagasakied? The Hilton folks were vague on details.

They said only that the name was revoked because of franchise agreement violations by the building's owners at the time, Shubh Hotels Pittsburgh LLC. A Tampa cardiologist became the building's majority owner Thursday, with Shubh maintaining a minority stake.

Perhaps Hilton lost patience with Shubh drawing more headlines for its various legal and financial woes than for the hotel's superior turn-down service.

Maybe Hilton grew tired of a long-stalled renovation project that has left structural steel exposed in the front of the building seemingly since the Pirates last fielded a competitive team.

But whatever the reasons for the revocation, Hilton's action left the 712-room hotel, the city's largest lodging establishment, without a proper moniker.

Or did it?

When I called the hotel yesterday, around the time Shubh Hotels was in U.S. Bankruptcy Court filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a pleasant-sounding recorded voice said, "Hello, and thank you for calling the Pittsburgh Hilton."

True, it probably would have sounded strange had that recorded voice said, "Hello, and thank you for calling the, uh -- well look, things are complicated at the moment. Just call us The Hotel for now."

But wouldn't that have been more accurate?

A person with whom I spoke in the guest services department insisted the hotel remains a Hilton -- even after I noted that all traces of its existence appeared to be purged from Hilton's website.

"We're kind of in purgatory right now," he said. "But we're continuing to operate as a Hilton."

What Hilton thinks about its former Pittsburgh franchise continuing to use its name -- and, presumably, its embroidered linens -- is unclear. No one at the company's McLean, Va. headquarters returned my calls or e-mails.

But it's evident the hotel will not easily relinquish its Hilton identity. When I walked through the building, the name remained everywhere -- from the large gray carpet outside the entrance to the interior electronic message board touting free Internet service for guests.

As if free WiFi is something to boast about. I bet even most modestly priced motel chains offer that these days.

"Yes, we offer free wireless Internet access," said Karen, the front desk clerk at the Super 8 motel in Harmar, when I called to inquire.

At the moment, that motel also can offer guests an online presence and no confusion about its name. Too bad the same can't be said for the Imposter Inn.


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