Category Archives: Hotels

Bruce Haase named Value Place CEO

bruceWICHITA — There’s a new CEO at Value Place, and founder Jack DeBoer calls him “a superstar.”

Bruce Haase spent a dozen years with Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest franchise organizations with brands such as Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn and Clarion.

“I think Value Place quite honestly is the best opportunity in hospitality right now,” Haase says.

He says it’s “a very uniquely positioned brand” with “tremendous growth opportunities.”

Haase started with Choice Hotels as treasurer and six months later was given the international division.

“It was actually quite troubled at that point.”

He says he spent a lot of time overseas making the division stronger.

“That’s really where I learned franchising,” Haase says.

He says during that time, he became more of a generalist instead of focusing strictly on numbers.

“It was quite a fascinating journey.”

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Siena Tuscan Steakhouse loses chef

UPDATED — Another person in what’s been a string of Ambassador Hotel employees coming and going – from the general manager on down – is gone.

This time, it’s executive chef Marshall Roth, who moved to Wichita to open the downtown hotel’s Siena Tuscan Steakhouse.

“We kind of just parted ways,” Roth says. “I need to do what’s right for myself, and they need to do what’s right for the hotel.”

Hotel owner Paul Coury says he’s a huge Roth fan.

“He’s a great guy,” Coury says.

Roth says he came to Wichita to be his mother’s caretaker. He says he recently was looking to hire more nurses for his mother. Now, he says, he won’t have to.

“I’m going to be taking care of my mom.”

Coury says Roth’s schedule of caring for his mother sometimes conflicted with his schedule at the restaurant.

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Ambassador Hotel closer to possible Autograph Collection by Marriott deal

WICHITA — Last fall, Have You Heard? reported that the Ambassador Hotel may become part of the growing Autograph Collection by Marriott.

At the time, Paul Coury, chairman of Tulsa-based Coury Group, said that he was looking into a soft brand concept.

He didn’t confirm that the Autograph Collection by Marriott was one of them. Nor is he confirming anything now.

However, it looks like the deal may be getting closer. There are still a few hurdles to go, though.

The soft brand trend allows boutique hotels to retain their independence but align themselves with the power of a large chain.

“We’re not where we originally hoped to be by now,” Coury said in September.

“I don’t think we did as good of a job as we needed to to get the major demand generators exposed to our product.”

He was referring to groups and businesses that can commit to annual contracts with hotels, often at the start of each new year.

“It’ll be fine,” Coury said. “It’s going to be a great property for us, and it fits well into the market we’re trying to develop.”

Look for more news soon.

Value Place to expand with a couple of dozen more employees

WICHITA — As the number of Value Place properties continue to grow, so does the need for more employees at the company’s corporate headquarters on East 21st Street between Rock and Webb roads.

“We’re definitely … hiring a lot of people,” says president and COO Kyle Rogg.

The company opened a property in Jacksonville, Fla., this week and has three more under construction.

“Franchisees are building as well,” Rogg says.

He says Value Place’s properties, a number of which are under renovation, are performing solidly.

“We’re pretty much on plan with where we expected to be,” he says.

“It just takes more people to continue to grow.”

The Wichita office has about 65 employees, not counting the ones at the company’s three properties here.

Rogg says the company likely will add about 25 employees this year.

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Phil Ruffin buys Florida oceanfront property sight unseen, but it’s no joke

UPDATED — There are a lot of jokes about waterfront property in Florida that someone would like to sell you sight unseen.

The oceanfront property that billionaire Phil Ruffin purchased in December – without even looking at it – is no joke on him, though.

“We went down there and looked at it at New Year’s, and it’s a beautiful piece of property,” Ruffin says. “It’s a luxury property.”

The price may be even more attractive. Ruffin paid $6 million for 500 feet of oceanfront property on almost 12 acres in Vero Beach for which the previous owners paid $17.5 million.

“It was a bargain,” Ruffin says. “Someone took an $11 million hit.”

There used to be a Radisson hotel on the property, but it was torn down after a storm.

“Once that happens, you have to start over again,” Ruffin says of rezoning for potential hotel use.

He’s going to go through the rezoning, but Ruffin says he isn’t sure what he’ll do after that.

He might build a new hotel.

“Or we might flip it.”

Ruffin, who owns Treasure Island in Las Vegas and the Wichita Marriott on Corporate Hills Drive, says he likes investing in land.

“I’d rather have land than money right now,” he says. “Money’s not worth a lot. It’s very hard to invest our money and make anything off it right now. The interest rates are so low that money markets are not good, and stock markets are a little bit jumpy, so land is a pretty good investment right now in hot areas.”

So, ah, what are those hot areas that perhaps the rest of us may invest in?

“Well, Florida’s real good, and Vegas is getting better, and Wichita’s not bad,” Ruffin says.

“I like my little hometown. I’m not sure they like me, but I like them.”

Hotel at Old Town borrows Neiman Marcus gift idea

WICHITA — If you’re desperately seeking that special last-minute gift, perhaps for the person who already has everything, Michael Frimel wants to talk to you.

The vice president of sales and marketing at the Hotel at Old Town is taking a page from the annual Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, which offers what it calls “fantasy gifts” that are outrageously priced, one-of-a-kind presents.

Frimel’s idea is to sell the entire hotel and its banquet space for New Year’s Eve 2014 – that’s next New Year’s.

“It’s the ultimate Christmas gift, which is why I think now is the perfect time,” he says.

He’s selling it for $123,120.14.

Fourteen cents? Does that really matter on a $123,000 tab?

“Look at it from a date perspective,” Frimel says.

That’s Dec. 31, 2014.

“So that’s the price tag,” Frimel says. “That includes guest room accommodations for 114 of your favorite couples. It includes all of your food and beverages.”

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Ambassador Hotel may align with Autograph Collection by Marriott

WICHITA — Wichita’s Ambassador Hotel, which has struggled since opening in January, may become part of the growing Autograph Collection by Marriott.

“I’m looking into soft brands,” says Paul Coury, chairman of Tulsa-based Coury Group.

The soft brand trend allows boutique hotels to retain their independence but align themselves with the power of a large chain.

Coury won’t confirm if he’s working on a deal for the Ambassador to become part of the Autograph Collection.

He does say, though, “If we were to do anything, it’s a good fit for what we do.”

Coury says a soft brand would allow the Ambassador to keep its name and individual style “but still maintain certain standards.”

“We’re not where we originally hoped to be by now,” he says.

“I don’t think we did as good of a job as we needed to to get the major demand generators exposed to our product.”

He’s referring to groups and businesses that can commit to annual contracts with hotels, often at the start of each new year.

“We’re getting ready to burn through 2013 pretty quick,” Coury says. “Once January rolls around, based on the feedback we’ve been receiving … we’ll reach the original projections.”

There are several hurdles, he says.

“Sometimes things don’t go the way you project,” Coury says. “I made some mistakes. I misread the market on some things.”

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Phil Ruffin likes a good deal — if he’s the one getting it

WICHITA — It’s no wonder Phil Ruffin does business in Las Vegas instead of merely his hometown of Wichita.

Ruffin, who owns Treasure Island, recently added 40,000 square feet of retail space to the casino and hotel. CVS signed the first lease at the new space at $300 a square foot.

“Can you imagine that?” Ruffin says of the price. “Isn’t that crazy?”

Wichita prices are significantly less at more like $15 to $25 a square foot.

Ruffin says a lot of Wichitans are coming to his hotel, but he’s not giving them any special deals.

“Hell no.”

DeBoer says he was close to settling lawsuit with former employees, but now that’s off

WICHITA — Hotel developer Jack DeBoer says he was close to settling the lawsuit his Hotel at Old Town filed against two former employees who left for the Ambassador Hotel, but he says that’s now changed.

“They’ve made an offer to settle, and finally I was ready to do it,” DeBoer says of his former general manager Sheila Cole and former director of sales Amy Grossman, who now have the same positions at the Ambassador.

The lawsuit, which was filed in June, alleges breach of fiduciary duty, the destruction of evidence and the misappropriation of trade secrets, among other things.

DeBoer says Cole has now hired his head of housekeeping, front desk manager and one other employee.

“Sheila to do that, it’s unconscionable,” DeBoer says. “Hell, the lawsuit’s still out there.”

That’s why DeBoer says he changed his mind about settling.

“I said, ‘To hell with it. Let’s leave it out there.’ People don’t think.”

Terry Malone, the attorney who represents Cole and Grossman, says he wasn’t aware DeBoer was ever close to settling.

“As is typical of all lawsuits, there has been some … settlement negotiation and discussion,” he says. “I’ve had no indication that they’re close.”

Malone says he has been dealing with DeBoer’s attorney and not DeBoer, but he says what’s been suggested in negotiations is that everything should remain confidential. He says that’s how he’d like to keep it.

To say much more, he says, “Frankly, I think it would be inappropriate.”

Malone says he’s not sure about other employees Cole may have hired.

Regardless, he says Cole has done nothing “that is wrong or in violation of any law or contract.”

“I do not know why he would be angry,” Malone says of DeBoer. “People change jobs all of the time.”

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Jack DeBoer creates new VP position for former Ambassador GM Michael Frimel

UPDATED — The new vice president of sales and marketing for the Hotel at Old Town and the Hotel at WaterWalk is a familiar face in the Wichita hotel world.

Michael Frimel, who was the former general manager of the Ambassador Hotel, has the newly created job.

“He reports directly to me,” says hotelier Jack DeBoer.

Former Hotel at Old Town general manager Sheila Cole and former director of sales Amy Grossman now hold the same positions at the 6-month old Ambassador. DeBoer is suing them for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, the destruction of evidence and the misappropriation of trade secrets, among other things.

DeBoer says Frimel’s hiring has nothing to do with Cole and Grossman or where they went.

“It has absolutely no connection,” he says. “I met him after all that confusion.”

He says Frimel wanted to stay in Wichita and contacted him about a job. DeBoer says he’d already hired Jennifer Finlay as general manager for the Hotel at Old Town. He says she’s worked for the hotel for a decade.

“That was easy,” DeBoer says of hiring her. “She’s terrific.”

Frimel says he didn’t immediately call DeBoer after resigning from the Ambassador at the end of May because he considered getting out of the hotel business.

“This allowed me to, number one, keep my family here,” says Frimel, who has a son going into high school.

He says this position will allow him to focus more on sales and marketing, which he says is something he loves.

“I will talk to anybody about anything,” he says.

Frimel hasn’t discussed his departure from the Ambassador publicly yet, but he says there’s no story beyond his choice to do something else with a new company.

“There’s really not,” he says. “It was definitely my decision.”

DeBoer says he’s still looking for a few more sales people.

“We’re just beefing up.”

Although the lawsuit is yet to be resolved, DeBoer says he doesn’t want his staff at the Hotel at Old Town or at the Hotel at WaterWalk dwelling on what happened with the hotel departures.

“It’s forbidden at both hotels to talk about that whole issue,” he says. “It’s over. It’s done with. … Our job is to get on with it.”