''After my purchase is complete, I anticipate investing at least another million dollars into the property,''says Barash. I have already met with representatives of Best Western International and leached an agreement to operate under their flag.'' Plans are to rename the hotel Best Western Prairie Inn.
''This new affiliation will be a key to renewed success of the hotel.A significant amount of this investment will be upgrading to Best Western standards.They specify everything from the types of televisions in the rooms to the sizes and types of linens and even the number and presentation of water glasses in each room. Perhaps the single costliest change is the need to convert the entire hotel to an electronic lock system.''
The 147-room hotel sits on eleven acres at Galesburg's eastern entrance and boasts a large indoor pool, banquet and meeting rooms and the Tavern of the Pheasant restaurant and bar. With an AAA 3-diamond rating and advertised room rates ranging from $49-84 per night, the Galesburg Jumer's has long been one of this city's premier hostelries but business has dropped off noticeably in recent years. Occupancy has reportedly averaged a mere 30 percent despite recent remodeling and a variety of discounted rates and special packages.
''The weakness of this hotel is shared by the entire Jumer's hotel company,'' explained Barash.As a small family-owned chai,n they just didn't have the ability to cost-effectively market and position themselves.''
The hotel will continue to operate under the Jumer's name for about two months before becoming the Prairie Inn. Barash has already selected two local people to be his lieutenants in this project. Jane Butler, currently director of the Knox County United Way, will serve as the hotel's general manager.
Local chef and co-owner of La Dolce Vita restaurant, Sal Traina, will be responsible for Prairie Inn's restaurant and banquet services. Traina is expected to give up his existing downtown Galesburg restaurant. La Dolce Vita has quietly been on the market for at least a few weeks at this point and there has been no word of interested buyers as yet.
Traina's restaurant at the hotel formerly known as Jumer's will be called the Prairie Steakhouse. He will be redecorating, brightening up the facility, and expanding the menu. "We will have a variety of steaks, chops, pasta and seafood that's currently not available in town. There will be a little Italian, American and seafood." In addition to serving three meals a day, seven days a week, Traina says that the popular Sunday brunch buffet will be continued and that he may add a Saturday one also.
''In addition to the remodeling, I also intend to build a fitness center adjacent to the hotel,''added Barash.''lt is my intention to return the hotel to its rightful position as the premier place to stay in Galesburg.''
The once high-flying Jumer's hotel corporation has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings for nearly two years now. During a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Peoria in June 2000, the company told Judge William Altenberger that they believed the sale of one or two of the company's five hotels would be sufficient to meet their debt obligations. As it turns out, all five Jumer's hotels will be sold and the corporation dissolved, according to Barash.
The Jumer's brand was born in 1960 when D. James Jumer purchased a Peoria family restaurant named Kramer's on the site of the current Castle Lodge on Western Avenue not too far from downtown Peoria. Jumer redid the restaurant with a German motif and established the company's trademark Bavarian flavor. Ten years later, he built the 175-room Peoria hotel adjacent to the restaurant. In 1973 Jumer's built an even more elaborate Castle Lodge high atop a bluff in Bettendorf, Iowa -- complete with a moat. Four years later, the company bought the former Lincoln Hotel in Urbana and remodeled it into the third Castle Lodge.The jewel of the Jumer's chain is the 21 0-room, five-story Bloomington Chateau, which the company built in 1988 to resemble a French country chateau.
The company began facing financial difficulties not long after it became involved in the riverboat casino business. In 1990, Illinois became the second state (following Iowa) to legalize riverboat gaming when Governor Jim Thompson signed the riverboat gambling bill into law in Peoria using a blackjack table as a desk. The second license was awarded to the Rock Island Boatworks, Inc. owned by Jumer.
In 1992 the Casino Rock Island, a 750-1000 passenger paddlewheel excursion boat began life as a floating casino. The financial performance of the Casino Rock Island has never kept up with others in the state. The Casino Rock Island's officially reported gross revenues for 2000 were a mere $31 million placing it dead last out of the ten Illinois licensed casinos.
In addition, the Jumers were involved with aborted attempts to get riverboat casinos operating in Peoria and St. louis.
With all five hotel properties up for sale simultaneously, there has reportedly been a lot of interest in the Bloomington, Urbana and Peoria properties and somewhat less interest in the Bettendorf hotel. Frank Pedulla, general manager overall five of the Jumer's hotels, has apparently committed to purchasing the Peoria property and at least one deal for the Urbana hotel fell through just prior to consummation. According to Barash, there had been almost no interest expressed in the Galesburg property prior to his offer.
''In early September, almost on a lark, I submitted an unsolicited offer to Jumer's with a 72-hour expiration. I had thought about the possibility of locating my law office in the hotel's A-wing, the section closest to the street. My law firm (Barash & Everett) has already overgrown our relatively new offices in a building next door to Jumer's and converting space on the A-wing will permit me to significantly expand my office space.''
The 72-hour window came and went last September with no word from Jumer's. Then, late in September, Barash heard from Jumer's attorney and was invited to resubmit his bid. He did so with a few changes and began discussions with Jumer's representatives in early October. Although Barash is unwilling to disclose his bid price he does acknowledge that he is getting a very good deal and that is what makes it feasible for him to invest heavily in remodeling to bring it up to Best Western standards.
Best Western claims more than 4,000 independently owned-and-operated hotels in 80 countries worldwide. Not a franchise, Best Western is more akin to a co-op. The company is operated as a not-for- profit corporation owned by member hotels In addition to a branded advertising campaign, the company operates a worldwide reservation system and a website to showcase its members. Its fees are among the lowest in the industry yet the standards expected of its members are very precise.
While it is clearly a well-though-out business decision, Barash has a familial relationship with this hotel as well. His father and law partner, Burrel, was a resident of Jumer's Continental Inn for many years.
''After remodeling and the movement of my office to the A-wing I figure there will e 128 brighter, nicer rooms with the latest amenities and larger televisions that do not offer X-rated movies. Like the Marriott folks, this is just a matter of principle with me.''