New Owner To Renovate Hilton Hotel

New owner plans to renovate Hilton

Paul Wyche | The Journal Gazette

FORT WAYNE – As downtown improvements efforts go, the Hilton Hotel at the Grand Wayne Center hasn’t generated the kind of buzz of The Harrison or Parkview Field.

But the $12.4 million purchase of the hotel by a California operator brings stability to one of downtown’s anchor tenants.

In April, Welcome Group Inc. of Torrance, Calif., took over the hotel from Servico Fort Wayne Inc. The Welcome Group inked a 10-year franchise agreement with Hilton Worldwide. The new owner will invest at least $2 million in the next year or so as part of the deal. Upgrades could include a revamped restaurant area, atrium and guestrooms.

The hotel, 1020 S. Calhoun St., received a $3.3 million renovation in 2011. General Manager Mark Luttik said the 246-room hotel, which opened in 1985, received improvements to guestrooms, including new draperies, carpeting and other flooring. The hotel wants to stay competitive and not lose Grand Wayne Convention Center guests to the nearby 250-room Courtyard by Marriott, which opened in 2010.

“This is really all you could ask for as a hotel manager,” Luttik said. “The previous owner did not manage the hotel. It was run by a third party. The new owner will own and operate the property and that’s a big advantage.”

Welcome Group President Amar Shokeen hopes so. The businessman owns and manages six hotels in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia. They include the Hampton, Courtyard and Holiday Inn brands.

“I intend to be very hands-on, but not nick-picky,” he said. “There is a lot of excitement in Fort Wayne with its efforts to revitalize downtown. We want to come in and see what we can do to become part of the community.”

The hotel industry nationally tallied $137.5 billion in revenue in 2011, a nearly 8 percent increase. It was the largest percentage change in a decade, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Officials expect to see healthy growth again when 2012 figures are released next month.

John Livengood, president and CEO of the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association, believes Fort Wayne must be doing something right to secure a new hotel owner.

“Whenever people are buying hotels, it’s a good sign for the economy,” he said.

In fact, Shokeen said the hospitality business is a safer investment than Silicon Valley ventures. During the dot-com bust in 2000, he felt his information technology company wasn’t enough.

“We were losing customers,” Shokeen said. “I told my wife, Rita, that we can’t live like that.”

The couple set their sights on a small 65-room Best Western and haven’t looked back since. “Fort Wayne isn’t our biggest property, but we see a lot of opportunity there,” Shokeen said.

Remo Pizzichemi, vice president of operations for the Welcome Group, said while the Grand Wayne Center was a major reason the company made the deal, accountability comes with the purchase.

“There is a tremendous responsibility that goes with it,” he said. “The Hilton is a flagship in downtown. It already has the core needed to be a first-class facility. The atrium is gorgeous and it has a high-profile brand, which is perfect for the Grand Wayne Center.”

Original article here (Journal Gazette)

Hilton Grand Wayne Convention Center (Hotel Website)

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Categories: Grand Wayne Center, Shopping & Dining, Tourism

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