|By Thomas Olson, The Pittsburgh
Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 24, 2010--A federal bankruptcy judge in Pittsburgh on Tuesday granted a request to rebrand a hotel as the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown.
The city's largest hotel had been known for decades as the Pittsburgh Hilton.
Operations of the landmark hotel at Point State Park should start getting back to normal next week, now that it's got a major brand name again, said its manager.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffery Deller's order approved a 15-year franchise agreement between Wyndham and the hotel's owner, Shubh Hotels Pittsburgh, which is in bankruptcy.
"This is great. It's a wonderful Thanksgiving for a lot of people," said Frank Amedia, the hotel's manager.
On Monday or Tuesday, Amedia said, a permanent "Wyndham" sign should be placed atop the 24-story building, replacing a temporary banner that went up yesterday. The hotel's 300 workers started wearing Wyndham uniforms, too.
In addition, Wyndham was adding the Downtown hotel to its reservations system as soon as late yesterday. The chain will lend $1 million to Shubh to help complete renovations to the exterior, an unfinished eyesore for more than a year.
Amedia said the judge's order will enable Shubh next week to start restoring services and jobs that were cut back last week. To conserve money, Shubh had laid off more than a dozen hotel workers and tradesmen, severely reduced the weekly work hours of others and curtailed food service.
"This is what the company needed," said Dr. Kiran Patel, the Tampa hotelier and former cardiologist who owns Shubh. "Now, we are going in the right direction."
Hotel representatives during the next three weeks will contact about 600 wedding, meeting and conference planners to salvage as many 2011 bookings as possible, Amedia said.
Deller estimated the lack of a brand name cost the hotel 21 percent to 25 percent of its revenue. One night last week, only 40 rooms were rented, Shubh attorney David Rudov said.
"You can't run the largest hotel in Pittsburgh without a worldwide reservation system," Rudov said. "So, this is a good result."
The 713-room hotel becomes the 28th hotel to be named a Wyndham Grand, said the upscale chain, which is based in Parsippany, N.J. The company's other hotel locally is branded the Wyndham Pittsburgh -- University Place in Oakland, but it is not the elite, convention hotel brand.
Until yesterday, the Downtown hotel was doing business as the Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. It had operated without a major brand since September, when Hilton terminated the franchise agreement.
Shubh's main lender, BlackRock Financial Management Inc., had objected to the rebranding. The New York money manager argued the Wyndham name was inferior to the Hilton name. Loss of the Hilton flag and BlackRock's foreclosing on the hotel led Shubh to file for bankruptcy Sept. 7.
BlackRock's attorney could not be reached yesterday.
Yesterday, Deller rejected BlackRock's assertion and referred to the Wyndham as "a quality, full-service hotel brand."
"Re-flagging is key to (Shubh) recapturing lost revenue and mitigating the concerns of existing reservation holders and employees regarding the long-term viability of the hotel," the judge said.
The new flag, however, does not settle the Shubh bankruptcy. The judge has yet to accept or reject Patel's reorganization plan, which includes his personal financial backing.
No entity, including BlackRock, has so far submitted a competing plan.
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