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Red Lion adds new Federal Way franchise, plus one in Detroit

Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels is not done with its plans for Seattle. Two months ago it announced it will sell its Bellevue hotel.

Last year it also sold off its downtown hotel and made it one of its franchise properties.

On Monday the company announced another franchise, the Red Lion Inn & Suites in Federal Way, at 1688 S. 348th St.

The building has 90 guest rooms, a conference room and laundry facilities. The press release noted it's 15 miles from the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

The owner, Paul Sandhu of NW Hospitality LLC, said he plans to invest $2 million for upgrades to rooms, meeting areas and a new indoor pool.

Last week Red Lion also announced  it's signed a franchise deal for a hotel near Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

“The Detroit metro area is among the top 20 MSAs in the U.S., which we are targeting as we expand eastward,” said Brian Quinn, Chief Franchise Officer for RLHC.

That property is at 9095 Wickham Road. It  has 77 rooms and is located about three miles from Detroit Metropolitan Airport.  It is expected to convert to Red Lion by the end of the year.

Red Lion waited for the right time to unload its Bellevue hotel

Today's interesting Spokane business story is the plan by Red Lion Hotels to sell its Bellevue property. It sits conveniently near the Bellevue city core and right next to busy I-405. It will fetch top-dollar because of Seattle area property values.

Down at the bottom is one nugget. In recent years some unhappy RLH investors have been pushing the company to sell the building.

Two years ago, the clamor was supported by predictions the building then would have sold for more than $20 million.

With a new CEO at the helm, the company has agreed to move forward with a sale. And the market is certainly better than it was two years ago — for sellers.

The likely price tag, according to one unidentified specialist, will be somewhere above $45 million.



Travel: Vancouver Christmas Market

   December in Europe is beautiful and the traditional Christmas markets are a way to experience the best of the holiday season. Of course, it’s not always possible to hop on a plane and cross an ocean. I couldn’t fit it in this year so I started thinking about a way to come as close to a European experience as possible without crushing my calendar or busting the budget.


    As it happens. Vancouver, British Columbia, launched a Christmas Market in 2010 and I’ve been hoping to get up to check it out. So, why not this year? I had some business in Portland and some research to do in Vancouver. With a little flexibility, I figured I could combine business and pleasure. 



Sleeping in Seattle

    Instead of flying straight home from Portland, I booked a flight to Seattle and a room at the Red Lion Hotel 5th Avenue. It’s one of my favorite hotels, comfortable, upscale, right in the center of my favorite shopping district and a short Light Rail ride from the airport. 


    I checked in, dropped off my bags and walked down to Nordstrom Rack for some Christmas shopping before the store closed. After a good night’s sleep (the Red Lion motto is “Stay Comfortable” and I did) I was up early the next morning and although I could have walked, the short taxi ride (it was just a $5 fare) to the King Street Amtrak station was well worth the extra minutes it gave me.


Riding the Rails

    I’m a train lover and I’ve taken the Amtrak Empire Builder from Spokane to Seattle and Portland, and over to Montana, but I’ve never been on the Amtrak Cascades. It’s a fantastic three-hour trip and December is the perfect time to enjoy the stark winter scenery along one of the most beautiful coastlines in North America.      


   Rolling out of Seattle just before 8 a.m., the train followed Puget Sound and stopped in a number of cities and small towns before crossing into British Columbia. I got a cup of coffee and a piece of locally-baked banana bread in the train’s Bistro Car and had breakfast in my seat, my eyes on the view out the window. At one point a bald eagle who’d been sitting on the broken trunk of a dead tree, looked straight into my window before flying out over the Sound. I pulled out my iPhone and it was almost as if he was posing for me as he circled overhead.     We arrived in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at around 11:30 a.m. 


   I checked in at the Loden Hotel and it is a gem. My room was elegant and understated and I was happy with an upgrade to one of the 2nd-floor terrace rooms. The Loden is conveniently located and I could walk to all the downtown attractions. (Winter rates are particularly attractive.)


The Vancouver Christmas Market

    I’ve been to Christmas markets across Germany, from Munich’s large elegant market to the smaller, more provincial markets in villages along the Rhine. The Vancouver Christmas Market is incredibly authentic. The 45 charming wood huts were filled with all kinds of goodies. And the tasty potato pancakes, cheese and ham spaetzle, bratwurst, spiced sweet baked apples and, of course, souvenir mugs of Glühwein made me feel like I was at a true German market. 


    School children sang carols around the big tree in the center of the square and a Kathe Wolfhart pop-up shop was filled with handmade ornaments and crafts. I’ve always wanted one of the handmade candle carousels and I finally bought one while I was in Vancouver. (I knew I could carry it on the short flights and get it home safely, something that’s always hard to guarantee on long flights home from Germany.)



The takeaway

   My instinct was spot on. Vancouver is a great place to get an authentic European Christmas market experience, as well as a little “Christmas in the Big City” fun, without leaving my favorite corner of North America.


    I spent three days and nights soaking up the vibrant multicultural offerings of the city. Vancouver’s reputation as city of foodies is growing and I can testify to the variety of world-class cuisine.  There are more must-visit restaurants than I can list here, but Tableau Bar Bistro at the Loden (mushrooms on toast!) Homer Street Cafe (outstanding rotisserie chicken), Burdock and Co., Hawksworth Restaurant, Pidgin (book the Chef’s table!) and Rangoli were standouts. And the pastries at Boucoup Bakery are worth a trip any time. 



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com



Red Lion sells its Missoula hotel, turns it into a franchise

Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. announced on Thursday it's sold its Red Lion Missoula Inn for $1.95 million. As part of the sale agreement, the new owners signed a franchise agreement with the company.

It's been renamed the Red Lion Inn & Suites Missoula. It's a limited service property with 76 exterior entry rooms, situated near Providence Health & Services St. Patrick Hospital in  downtown Missoula.

“This property is in a great location,” said Sam Hossain of RASM Properties, LLC, the new owners of the hotel.

Red Lion had announed in November 2011 that the property was for sale.

Red Lion announces plan to add Cathedral City franchise hotel

Spokane’s Red Lion Hotels Corp. announced Wednesday it’s added a franchise location in Cathedral City, Calif.

This fall the 97-room Quality Inn & Suites Date Palm will convert to Red Lion Hotel Cathedral City.  Cathedral City is approximately seven miles southeast of Palm Springs.

Red Lion has made a clear strategic decision to expand through franchising new locations.

 Company CEO Jon Eliassen said the property is a good addition that will appeal to travelers to the Palm Springs and Southern California region.

 Having a location in the Palm Springs area makes sense by offering more options to winter-time business or recreation travelers, Eliassen added. The Red Lion press release noted the Palm Springs area features more than 100 golf courses.

Red Lion investors are restless, based on withheld vote count for directors

Red Lion Hotels, the Spokane hospitality company working its way through some investor discontent, held its recent annual meeting at its downtown headquarters. The May 23 meeting included the re-election of board directors.

We went back one year to Red Lion's 2011 annual meeting, at a time when there was less investor revolt. We checked to see what changed in the election numbers.

In 2012 these same three Red Lion directors were all approved, but with significantly more "withheld" votes than in 2011. 

Richard Barbieri in 2011 got 8.4 million "for" votes, 5.2 million votes withheld.

In 2012 Barbieri got 9.4 million "for" votes, and 5.7 million votes withheld.

Jon Eliassen in 2011 got 13.2 million "for" votes and 403,804 withheld votes.

In 2012 Eliassen got 9.5 million "for" votes and 5.6 milliion votes withheld.

Melvin Keating in 2011 got 13.1 million "for" votes and 537,700 withheld.

This year Keating got 9.5 million "for" votes and  5.6 million withheld votes.

You can go back and see that in the past several months two large groups, including the largest single shareholder (Columbia Pacific) have indicated they want major changes in company operations and strategy. Red Lion execs have agreed and hired Bank of America consultants to provide advice and options.

The huge increase in withheld votes, even without an organized campaign mounted against the officers, suggests that Red Lion shareholders are still sending a message. When shareholders withhold votes, that's not the same as simply choosing to not send back a card or voting instruction. In a withheld vote, the card or instruction email is sent to the company without a vote "for" the nominee.

The votes for Director Richard Barbieri are the odd result. Barbieri managed to get more "for" votes this year and he received more withheld votes, as well.

The RLH stock chart here shows some buoying of share price, since the company announced plans to look at options, including selling off part or all of the company. 

Getting wet is part of the job, and Red Lion exec was ready with a re-do

Hats off to Red Lion Hotel's Patrick Shimon, area GM at Spokane's  Red Lion Hotel at the Park. On May 24 he agreed to go down the downtown hotel's redesigned pool slide, for photographers.

His stunt was meant to echo the same event when Don Barbieri rode the original slide in 1983. In a suit. In business shoes.

Unlike Barbieri, Shimon had to hit the pool twice Thursday morning.  A news crew from a Spokane TV station didn't show up on time. They asked Shimon to do it a second time. He did it, graciously.  And probably because his job description includes dealing with pesky media types.

The SR's Dan Pelle was there on time and ready with his Canon for the original slide. This is that moment. His photo appeared on page A5 of the May 25 editions of The Spokesman-Review.

Red Lion Hotels revamping website to get more booking revenue, using hyperlocal content

Spokane’s Red Lion Hotels is revamping its website in hopes of getting more people to book visits there instead of through online travel sites.

Company Executive Vice President Harry Sladich said the makeover will affect the main Redlion.com site plus 44 microsites for the chain’s individual hotels.

The goal is to save money by gaining more online reservations at its own sites instead of through online companies such as Expedia or Hotels.com.

“When (guests) make reservations through online travel agents, we take a substantial discount on the money they’re spending,” Sladich said.

The discount varies depending on how big the booking site is. Big sites like Expedia or Travelocity get close to 35 percent; smaller sites are taking cuts in the 20 percent range, Sladich said.

All bookings made at Red Lion’s site stay with the company.

To read the full story, go to Spokesman.com starting after 9 p.m. on Friday, May 4.

Red Lion sees a loss in first quarter earnings but room revenue grows

Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels on Tuesday announced it lost $6.6 million in the first quarter of 2012, a net loss of 34 cents per share, compared to a net loss from continuing operations of $4.5 million or 24 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2011. 

In the first quarter of 2012, comparable EBITDA from continuing operations (before special items) improved to $1.2 million, compared to a loss of $.5 million in the first quarter of 2011.

Since hotels are a unique industry, earnings include an occupancy and REVPAR (revenue per available room) formula to track numbers.

For this past quarter, the occupancy for its owned and leased hotels was 52 percent; average daily rate was $72.29 and REVPAR for the quarter was $40.21.

That's up, except for ADR, from the first quarter of 2011, when the three key numbers were 48.4 percent, $77.47 and $37.47.

RevPAR growth outpaced the midscale hotel segment and resulted in an increase in total revenue and EBITDA, said President and Chief Executive Officer Jon E. Eliassen.

"We successfully implemented targeted sales and marketing programs that allowed us to improve occupancy in what is typically our slowest period, without sacrificing rate," he said.

Would a Red Lion Hotels sale cost the area a lot of jobs?

Today's SR business section carried a story about the Red Lion Hotels board thinking about …. a number of options, including possibly selling the operation.

The key question we had: how many people work for Red Lion in Spokane. Answer: 350. 

If there was a sale to another hotel company, what happens then? The best scenario: some job losses but not likely a lot.  

The upside would be that many of the 350 jobs would remain because the bulk of those are  inside the company's two big hotels in this city. 

Another group of Red Lion staff manage the Tickets West / Broadway series operation. That business is one small part of the Red Lion company, and produces roughly 7 percent  of total company revenue, which in 2011 was $156 million.

Red Lion Hotels trying to sell properties in Missoula and Medford

Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. announced they're preparing to sell two of its hotels in Medford and Missoula.

Both hotels were part of a group previously leased from iStar Financial Inc. of New York.

Last week Red Lion purchased the hotels to end the leases. The company said at last week's announcement it would sell some of the hotels and keep others.  Keep in touch to see which other hotels in the group will also go on the for-sale block.

Jon E. Eliassen, president and CEO, said, "We will continue to look for ways to strategically position Red Lion with hotels that fit the brand going forward. Selling these two properties also furthers our effort to restructure our balance sheet, which will give the company more financial flexibility and increase shareholder value."


Sale of Seattle Red Lion closes

The $71 million sale of the Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Seattle has closed.

The deal announced last month transfers the 297-room property to Lowe Enterprise Investors.

Lowe affiliate Destination Resorts & Hotels takes over management, but the property near the Pike Place Market and Washington State Convention Center will retain the Red Lion brand.

Red Lion President Jon Eliassen said the revenue  from the sale will be used to improve company-owned hotels, and recapitalize its balance sheet.

Spokeswoman Pam Scott said Destination will pay Red Lion franchise and marketing fees.

Destination President Charlie Peck said the company plans to add rooms and expand meeting space at the hotel, which was offered for sale in January.

Scott said Red Lion also put its Denver property up for sale in January, but reconsidered after finding little interest. A Helena hotel remains on the market, she said. 

Red Lion adds a franchise hotel in Sacramento

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Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. announced Friday it's converted a Sacramento hotel into a Red Lion franchise.

The change involves the 109-room Vagabond Inn Executive Sacramento-Rancho Cordova.

It's now the more pleasingly named Red Lion Inn Rancho Cordova.

The address is 10713 White Rock Rd. The property was originally built as a Fairfield Inn by Marriott.

The Vagabond Inn corporate owners have made several improvements to this property in the last few months, including a new hotel entrance and expanded lobby, said Rich Carlson, Red Lion Hotels vice president for hotel development.  

Red Lion Hotels runs more than 45 hotels in cities across the West.

What keeps Eliassen ticking? Sunday’s story looks into his post-retirement career

Jon E. EliassenPeople who know Jon Eliassen say he's the busiest retired person they know.

In Sunday's Business section of The Spokesman-Review, we take a look at how Eliassen, who retired in 2002 after 33 years at WWP and Avista, has become a very busy executive around the area.

Eliassen has plenty to say about retirement and what he expected to do once he left Avista.

He continues serving, for the time being, as CEO and president of Red Lion Hotels Corp.

Red Lion earnings flat

Red Lion Hotels Corp. today reported first-quarter results that mirrored those for the same period in 2010.

Total revenue was $34.27 million, compared with $34.3 million a year ago.

The net loss for the period was $4.8 million, or 25 cents per share, a decline of almost 13 percent compared the $4.2 million, 23 cent-per-share loss for the 2010 period.

The occupancy rate for its 44 owner and affiliated hotels was identical for the two periods at 48.2 percent, with an increase in casual travelers offsetting a slight downturn in business traffic.

Red Lion sells Seattle hotel

Red Lion Hotels Corp. will sell its Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Seattle to an affiliate of Lowe Enterprises for $71 million, the Spokane-based hospitality company said today.

The deal, expected for close this quarter, will maintain the Red Lion brand on the 297-room property, but Lowe subsidiary Destination Hotels & Resorts will  take over management responsibilities.

The agreement also provides for cross-promotion of Red Lion and Destination hotels.

Red Lion announced in January it would sell the Seattle property, preferrably to an owner who would retain the brand.

"This is exactly the type of agreement we were targeting," said Red Lion President Jon Eliassen, noting the deal will strengthen the company's balance sheet.

Red Lion will announce its earnings Thursday.

Destination Hotels operates more than 7,000 hotel and condominium rooms.

AM: River Queen Ready To Cruise

Sam Landrum, owner of Lake City Marine Service, talked about his work on the River Queen cruise boat in Post Falls on Thursday. The boat, which is owned by Red Lion Hotels, is a replica of a Mississippi Sternwheeler. Landrum was able to repair the hull on the cruise boat, which almost was docked for good this year as a result of severe rusting to the hull. Alison Boggs story here. (SR photo: Kathy Plonka)

Question: When and why did you last ride a cruise boat on Lake Coeur d'Alene or the Spokane River? Did you enjoy the experience?

Red Lion adds its brand to Oakland hotel

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Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. on Friday said it's developed a brand affiliation with the Red Lion Hotel Oakland International Airport in Northern California. That location was formerly independently owned and operated Park Plaza Hotel Oakland.

"The sheer power of joining a known brand has already helped our property gain exposure," said Rao R. Yalamanchili, who owns the hotel along with Srinivas Yalamanchili.  "When we were considering moving from an independent hotel to a brand, we ultimately selected Red Lion Hotels because the company is also an owner of hotels and understands what it is like to be in the operartor's role."

Rich Carlson, Red Lion's Vice President of Lodging Development, said adding a new hotel in the Bay Area made strong economic sense.

The hotel has 189 rooms and more than 4,400 square feet of meeting space.

Red Lion adds California franchise

A Concord, Calif., hotel will become a Red Lion Hotels Corp. franchisee next month, the Spokane-based chain said today.

The Holiday Inn Concord, with 189 room and 5,400 square feet of meeting space, is the third Northern California hotel to convert to the Red Lion brand in the last month. The others are in Rancho Cordova and Oakland.

All three are expected to make the change in January.

“Red Lion owns and operates hotels, in addition to franchising them, which is something appreciated by franchise owners who have similar types of hotels,” interim Chief Executive Officer Jon Eliassen said.

As of Sept. 30, Red Lion owned or franchised 43 hotels in the western United States and Canada.



Red Lion adds California franchisees

Red Lion Hotels Corp. will add two California properties early next year, the Spokane-based company said today.

A Fairfield Inn in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento, will re-open as a Red Lion in January.  The 111-room hotel built by Marriott as a Fairfield in offers limited service.

The Red Lion brand will also be adopted by an independent, 189-room property at Oakland International Airport that offers full service.

“Red Lion has been a very strong brand in California, and these hotels strengthen our footprint,” interim President Jon Eliassen said.

Red Lion, with 43 hotels in eight states and one Canadian province, wants to add 11 more properties in the Western United States and British Columbia, ihe said.

Dan Jackson returning to Red Lion Hotels

Red Lion Hotels Corporation of Spokane has hired Dan Jackson as senior vice president and chief financial officer. He will begin Nov. 10.

Jackson has been involved in senior-level finance and strategic planning for more than 20 years, and he has significant experience in the hospitality industry, Red Lion said today.

As executive vice president and CFO for KinderCare Learning Centers, Inc. and its successor, Knowledge Learning Corporation, Jackson oversaw all financial operations and worked with investment banks and lenders in negotiating financing for a company with more than 1,650 locations.

Prior to KinderCare, Jackson was vice president and controller for Red Lion when it was held by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.

Jackson replaces Anthony Dombrowik, who left Red Lion in October after accepting a position as chief financial officer at Ambassadors Group, Inc., based in Spokane.