Artist rendering courtesy www.ibew.org

Hotel Management Switch Approved

A pair of downtown Peoria hotels are about to be under new management.

The City Council on Tuesday night approved letting First Hospitality Group take over the Pere Marquette and Courtyard hotels from Marriott, International. Marriott's flag will still fly over the hotels, but the company will not be charged with overseeing their day-to-day operations. 

Gary Matthews, whose EM Properties is developing the project, requested the change at the end of April. The issue has since been repeatedly put off by the City Council as city staff continued to research the implications of the switch. 

Matthews says he wanted to make a change at the helm after some problems arose with Marriott. He says while Marriott was selling rooms at the Pere Marquette, the company wasn't getting the job done when it came to attracting convention business. He also felt that Marriott was not being transparent with him in its every day dealings, among other things. 

"I was very disappointed in some of the results of management in of itself," Matthews said. "I'm used to being a little more hands-on in my other hotels, and I didn't feel it in this one."

That being said, Matthews repeatedly told council members that Marriott wasn't a bad company. He suggested some of the issues simply revolved around Marriot's lack of personal investment in the area. On the other hand, FHG, an Illinois-based company, might take more interest in making the historic hotel a success for the community. 

"I wanted inside management, I wanted inside marketing, and I want them to work with the Civic Center. And that's what these people have a record of doing," Matthews said. 

City manager Patrick Urich says the new agreement is basically a fresh start for the city, which has around $36 million invested in the hotel project. It has conditions that bolster, and clarify, certain financial protections for the city. 

"Like making sure that we get our [monthly] financial reports, certified by the owner of the hotel, and that we get management reports from the new manager and operator of the hotel," Urich said.

One thing the agreement does not do is form a city-led, three person advisory panel to oversee the operation of the hotels. That idea was proposed by Councilman Chuck Weaver last month after news broke that the project's developer was facing financial trouble for some Tazewell County properties. Urich says the idea was dropped because, if the city is too involved, it could become liable if the project goes awry. Furthermore, there's a practical matter behind not getting too deep into the management of the hotels. 

"It was never envisioned that the city would be in the hotel business, and it's not our intent to be in the hotel business today," Urich said. 

Councilman Weaver wound up voting "no" on the switch not because the agreement failed to include his proposal, but because it didn't even put the idea on the table. 

"I was hoping we could've somehow negotiated something if, in the future, we have difficulties with the management change," Weaver said. 

Weaver did not bring the matter up during the discussion, saying some conversations he had with other city officials "behind the scenes" showed little support for it. Jim Montelongo was the only other member of the council to vote "no."

The management switch, of which Marriott itself is very supportive, will be effective 11:59 p.m. July 17. The Courtyard is expected to open for business not long after that date. 

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