A 37-year-old Rochester hotel is trading a national brand for a local one.
The Ramada Hotel & Conference Center, owned by Dan and Terri Penz, of Rochester, officially became the Kahler Apache on Friday. The 149-room hotel is at 1517 16th St. S.W.
Neither of the Penzes were available for comment on Sunday.
While the southwest hotel now shares a name with four downtown hotels, Kahler Hospitality Group Marketing Director Cherylanne Thomas said it is not financially linked to the other hotels, and KHG is not licensing the name. KHG, which is led locally by businessman Javon Bea, owns the Kahler Grand Hotel, the Kahler Inn & Suites, the Marriott Rochester, the Residence Inn and the Textile Care Services industrial laundry.
"We're just managing this for Dan Penz. We're just consultants," she said. "We just lent him our name to his property because he chose to de-flag it as a Ramada. We're saving him on the franchise fee, which is savings he can pass on to his guests."
KHG and the Penzes signed a contractlast summer that turned the management of the hotel over to the Kahler hotel team. In a similar relationship, KHG hired Colorado-based Richfield Hospitality to manage the Kahler hotels in 2013. Thomas said because KHG doesn't have ownership in the Kahler Apache, Richfield does not have any involvement that hotel.
This name change for the former Ramada will have no effect on the hotel's about 60 employees, said Thomas.
"They are still under an employment contract with Dan Penz. That has nothing to do with us," she said.
A longtime Kahler employee, Chase Albrecht was recently named as general manager of the hotel.
"He (Albrecht) now is an employee of Dan Penz," Thomas said. "The previous GM had left on his own."
The Penzes originally purchased the hotel when it was under the Best Western brand in 2002. It became a Ramada franchise in 2004. The hotel originally was built by well-known developer George Baihly in 1977, and it opened as a Midway Motor Lodge. This is the first time the hotel will not have a national brand name over the entrance.
Driven by loyal return visitors coming for Mayo Clinic, Rochester has long been a stronghold for independent hotels without a national brand. While the Kahler name was franchised nationally in the past, Rochester has always been its primary base of operations. Other local independents include the Fiksdal Hotel and the adjacent Aspen Suites.
Local developer Ed Pompeian also has found success with his two Brentwood hotels.
Independent hotels struggled for many years nationally as the big chains established online reservations and rewards program. However, that is changing, said industry expert Smith Travel Research Inc. STR data shows occupancy and revenue at independent hotels growing quickly this year. Analysts point to local market knowledge and online review sites, such as Tripadvisor.com as keeping independents competitive with big chains like Marriott and Hilton.
Hotels, always important in Rochester, are growing quickly as part of the new Destination Medical Center economy. Almost 400 new rooms to be added in 2015 to the current 5,443 rooms.
Brad Jones, executive director of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau, expects Rochester will pass the 6,000 room milestone in 2017.