Janesville hotel becomes a Ramada

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Jim Leute
Wednesday, July 24, 2013

JANESVILLE—Guests who went to bed Tuesday at the America's Best Value Inn in Janesville awoke Wednesday morning at a Ramada hotel that soon will undergo significant renovations.

Effective Wednesday, the hotel at 3900 Milton Ave., became a Ramada property, marking the worldwide chain's return to Janesville after a seven-year absence.

Ramada, which now is part of the Wyndham Hotel Group, flew its flag over another Janesville hotel for nearly 40 years before the property was demolished in 2006 to make way for a new Menards.

While America's Best Value Inn had a short brand history in Janesville, the property on which it operates dates back nearly as long as the Ramada brand. The hotel opened in 1975 as the Midway Motor Lodge before becoming the Janesville Motor Lodge and then a Best Western.

The restaurant portion of the property opened as The Left Guard and then became Theodore's, which featured rock musicians and well-known blues groups.

The property changed its name a couple of years ago, and the property's owners—Sunrise Lodging—fell into foreclosure in 2012.

The plaintiff in the foreclosure suit, the Fort Atkinson-based PremierBank, paid a little more than $3 million for the property and another in Madison at a sheriff's sale last November.

“We want to re-establish this hotel for the community, so along with the rebranding we're moving forward with major improvements, both structural and décor,” said Roy Budlong, president of PremierBank, an independent community bank with eight locations in Jefferson County.

“This will be more than your typical upgrade, and visitors to Janesville deserve that.”

Budlong said PremierBank plans to eventually sell the property but first decided to make significant investments to make it more marketable.

“Most community banks that get properties back end up boarding them up,” he said. “We don't agree with that philosophy because you lose value and it's just not good for the community.”

Budlong said the property needs renovations and professional management to return it to the profitable asset it once was.

“We know what this property can do if it's managed the right way,” he said. “Hotels are sold as a multiple of gross revenues, and we think there's tremendous potential for significantly higher revenues, although it might take a couple of years.

“That's why we're putting money into it.”

The bank hired the Madison-based IDM Group to manage the 104-room property. IDM specializes in the development, management and repositioning of new and existing hotels, primarily independent properties, with a significant portfolio of hotels in the Midwest, including HotelRED in Madison and The Beloit Inn in Beloit.

Tammy Henderson, the Janesville hotel's general manager, said the goal is to transform the property into a “first-choice” hotel.

“Along with welcoming families, we want the Ramada to be the place local companies regularly reserve for meetings, brides choose for their wedding reception, sports teams book when they're in town for tournaments and families select for family reunions,” she said.

Budlong said renovations in the next few months will include a new roof, an improved central heating and cooling system, a new deck for the indoor pool, renovation of the lobby flooring and furnishings, renovation of the restaurant and banquet spaces and a major re-do of the guest rooms to include new bedding, draperies and flat-screen TVs.

Alfresco Café and Lounge, the current restaurant and bar, will be renamed and rebranded with a sports bar atmosphere and family-friendly menu, Budlong said. It will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner while also providing room service.

The hotel's meeting space can accommodate groups of up to 450 people.

“It's unusual for a bank to go to these lengths, but there is a need for a full-service hotel and we weren't about to walk away from that,” Budlong said.

Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she is pleased the owners plan to invest in significant renovations.

“Aside from the number of rooms, it's a really important property because it is the only Janesville hotel that has an onsite restaurant and bar, and that's something business people really look for,” Rebout said, adding that travelers are often incredibly loyal to specific brands.

Janesville has about 750 hotel rooms, which Rebout said is about the right number, except when big events come to town.

“We had about 1,000 rooms before the previous Ramada was torn down, and there are certainly times when we'd like that many,” she said. “Of course, the challenge is filling those rooms in January and February, and we're always trying to bring indoor events to town that will help the hotel operators fill rooms.”

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