|By Joyce Smith, The Kansas City Star, Mo.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jul. 15, 2005 - After more than 30 years as one of Kansas City's premier Country Club Plaza hoteliers, the Pistilli family has sold its landmark -- The Raphael Hotel.
Lighthouse Properties, a family-owned business based in Salina, Kan., bought the hotel for an undisclosed price. The Pistilli family also is licensing the Raphael brand to Lighthouse and hopes the company will expand into other markets.
The sale comes at a time when two boutique hotels are in the pipeline for the Plaza -- the West Edge project and the conversion of the Park Lane apartment building.
Kevin Pistilli, partner and president of the Raphael Hotel Group, and his sister, Cynthia Pistilli Savage, partner and vice president, will manage The Raphael until Jan. 3 and will serve as consultants through 2006. They also plan to pursue other hotel opportunities locally and elsewhere.
"I don't think we were looking to sell. We've never considered it," said Savage, who has been general manager of the hotel since 1996. "But we feel they will have a positive impact in Kansas City, like they have in Salina. They give a lot back to the community and are a second-generation family business, like we are. It was just right."
Lighthouse has been shifting from limited-service mid-tier hotels to upscale ones that would be long-term investments. It had developed and managed three mid-tier hotels in Kansas and Nebraska before selling them in 2004. It is now developing a Homewood Suites by Hilton in Wichita at the Waterfront development and also plans to construct a 120-room hotel in downtown Wichita, along with a Hilton hotel in Aurora, Colo.
"It's important for us to have distinctive hotels and in specialty locations like the Waterfront development, the Plaza and urban locations," said David Boos, executive director of Lighthouse. "We focus a lot on operations and relationships, and those things pay back over time. The Raphael is a great hotel that has a wonderful history. It's been a hotel of magical moments."
The Walker family of Salina has controlling interest in Lighthouse Properties and in Blue Beacon International Inc., owners of 100 truck washes in about 40 states with about 4,000 employees.
"We expect we will invest further dollars in the Raphael as needed," Boos said.
The Raphael Hotel Group was founded in 1968 as Alameda Plaza Inc., the hotel subsidiary of the J.C. Nichols Co., now Highwoods Properties. During his tenure with Alameda, the late Philip Pistilli, father of Kevin and Cynthia, pioneered the "boutique hotel" concept -- intimate hotels with personalized service patterned after elegant but affordable European hotels.
The first Raphael opened in San Francisco in 1971, followed by the Plaza location in 1975 and a Chicago hotel in 1979. All were near upscale shopping and business districts.
The Pistilli family purchased the three boutique hotels in 1989 under the Raphael Hotel Group. They later sold the Chicago and San Francisco hotels.
The Plaza location, at 325 Ward Parkway, has 123 guest rooms, including 88 suites. It dates to 1927, when it was known as the Villa Serena apartment building.
This year the hotel was named to the Conde Nast Traveler's reader's choice list of the top 500 hotels in the world.
The Raphael Hotel Group will continue to manage the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, along with the Hilton Garden Inn and the Jack Reardon Convention Center, both in downtown Kansas City, Kan.
"The Raphael is achieving occupancy rates we haven't enjoyed since the pre-9/11 years," Savage said. "The business traveler is really back. We are seeing that every day, and an increase in the leisure markets, too. I think people are confident to be traveling."
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