PEORIA — Changes are coming to the Marriott Pere Marquette and adjoining Courtyard by Marriott and, this time, they're good changes.
The Downtown hotels had struggled against turbulent financial headwinds starting in 2016 when Marriott threatened to pull its flag. The properties later fell into receivership and were eventually sold last year in a bankruptcy auction.
The new owner, the INDURE Build-to-Core Fund, the largest investor in the Marriott properties in Peoria, now runs the hotels through its property arm, the Washington, D.C.-based National Real Estate Advisors, a subsidiary of the National Electrical Benefit Fund, a major U.S. pension fund with more than $13 billion in assets.
"(National) is keeping the Pere as a long-term asset. The mood is real positive," said Jeff McLinden, managing director for the hotel complex, who's hearing a word he hasn't heard in recent years while the hotel was owned by Gary Matthews and his partners: investment.
National's investment plans include "multi-million dollar upgrades" in unspecified improvements to the Pere Marquette, Peoria's oldest hotel. Built in 1926, the hotel was extensively renovated in 2013.
McLinden said he might get details on possible renovations later this week when National officials come to town.
As a rule, National doesn't invest in cities as small as Peoria, said Jeffrey Kanne, the company's president and CEO. "We usually invest in urban core projects in the largest cities in the country such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York and Boston," he said.
"Hotels are not our first priority but we take them on as part of mixed-use developments," said Kanne.
Yet The firm has had success in the past with hotel investments, he said. "When we bought the Sheraton Grand in Los Angeles, it was ranked 186th in the city on TripAdvisor. After our renovations, it ranks among the top 10 hotels in L.A.," said Kanne of the 496-room hotel that's part of the Bloc, a project that includes an office building, retail space and restaurants.
"I grew up in a small town in Iowa," he said. "I know the importance of a vintage hotel for conventions and weddings. The community needs that. We've already seen a significant increase in traffic," said Kanne, referring to activity at the Peoria hotel since National took over last year.
Overseeing changes at the Pere will be the First Hospitality Group, the Rosemont firm selected by National to manage the hotel.
First president David Duncan looks forward to improvements at the Pere. The management company is no stranger to the Peoria properties having been first chosen to manage the Peoria hotel complex in 2014.
"We have a capital plan to renovate the hotel — to bring it up to the standards originally intended," he said. "You can never stand still in the hotel business," said Duncan, adding his firm has overseen renovations at a number of historic buildings across the country.
"What we've found is that refurbishing a grand hotel can become a beacon for downtown improvement. The gentrification of existing buildings can serve as a catalyst for economic development," said Duncan, noting the hotel will also add 30 more employees.
Marketing the hotel now that it's back on its feet is also important, said Wendy Stevens, the chief commercial officer for First Hospitality. "We've got seven new positions on the (hotel) sales team," she said.
"People love the property. Now the challenge is getting people through that hotel," said Stevens. "We're going back to old customers and letting them know we're under new management. Now they know we're going to be there. We've got a 15-year agreement with Marriott," she said.
Steve Tarter covers city and county government for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3260 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter@SteveTarter and facebook.com.tartrersource.