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Owner Severs 30- year Relationship with Holiday Inn;  Former Holiday Inn Rebrands
 as The Mankato City Center Hotel, Mankato, Minnesota


By Tanner Kent, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

March 15, 2010--MANKATO -- The Mankato City Center Hotel has completed its monthslong remodeling and rebranding effort with a flourish.

Or, perhaps more accurately, a swirl.

After deciding to sever its 30- year relationship with Holiday Inn last summer, the City Center Hotel focused its efforts on creating an independent brand and local image. And to represent the hotel's newfound personality, managers chose a logo to match the mission: A blue swirl that symbolizes Mankato's location on the Minnesota River.

DeAnna Wheelock, food and beverage director, said the swirl logo was the most popular of several options presented.

"It plays on that idea that Mankato is such a water city," Wheelock said. "It conjures images of flowing and continuity."

Last summer, hotel owner Doug Anderson -- who also owns the Holiday Inn Express near the River Hills Mall and the Best Western in North Mankato -- announced that the downtown Holiday Inn would not renew its franchise license.

On Oct. 1, the former Holiday Inn officially became the Mankato City Center Hotel.

Wheelock said there were financial reasons behind the decision -- the hotel would no longer have to pay franchise fees -- but there were also concerns Mankato was not large enough to support two Holiday Inn franchises.

But, perhaps more importantly, the decision allowed the hotel to create an image that meshed with the city's effort to market the downtown area as a socalled "convention campus."

Wheelock said the hotel was in no danger of losing its franchise license and, in fact, was rated by the corporation as among the topperforming hotels in its chain, especially in the area of customer service.

"There were a lot of benefits to going independent," she said. "It allowed us to focus more on the local market and gave us more flexibility."

That flexibility allows the hotel to control even small decisions -- like the brand of coffee served in rooms -- that can have potentially large impacts on customer service. She also said it allows the hotel more freedom in offering package deals and discounted rooms.

"Being independent does help to keep us competitive," Wheelock said.

The image overhaul began in earnest during the summer of 2009 when the hotel began a $ 1.3 million renovation of all 150 rooms. Each room was outfitted with a more modern color scheme as well as a flat- screen TV, refrigerator and microwave.

The effort will continue with a cosmetic overhaul of its lobby, adding new furnishings and specially designed carpet that features the swirl logo in its design. There are also longterm plans to remodel the hotel's banquet facilities and its restaurant and bar.

Even a new partnership struck with the Blue Earth County Historical Society speaks to the hotel's local flavor. In exchange for an information kiosk in the hotel lobby, the Historical Society will be hanging historical photographs of Mankato throughout the building.

Wheelock said the effort appears to be paying off.

"The comments from guests have been so positive," she said. "It feels contemporary, and much different than what customers have seen in the past."

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To see more of The Free Press or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.mankato-freepress.com/.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

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