Its new owner calls it a diamond in the rough, though others have called the former Econo Lodge in downtown Omaha much worse.
Now in different hands, the rundown property in a reviving pocket of the city’s central business district is on its way to reopening as an “eclectic, cool” sister to limited-service hotels that GLI Hospitality has updated in Kansas City and Wichita, said co-owner Doug Gamble.
When completely renovated, the 60-room property at 2211 Douglas St. is to launch in early 2017 as the 402 Hotel.
That’s the local telephone area code and follows a pattern used at GLI’s other properties, including the 816 Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, and the 316 Hotel set to open soon in Wichita.
GLI Hospitality, formed a few years ago by investors including Gamble and Michael Lawsky, plans to acquire more motor lodge-type places in regional cities such as Lincoln and Des Moines. The idea, Gamble and Lawsky said, is to remake a property that is tired or mismanaged, yet in a desirable location, into an independent hotel with local flair.
The company rehabilitates, adds a few high-end touches, but limits services so that room rates remain, in Omaha’s case, $89 a night.
“We’re going to repurpose it into something fun, cool and eclectic but affordable,” Gamble said of the 53-year-old, 20,000-square-foot downtown Omaha structure.
He and investors paid $2.1 million for what previously was known as the Econo Lodge. They plan to invest about $10,000 per room, or $600,000.
The future of the 402 Hotel includes a redesigned red and gray exterior with more lighting, a new roof, rehabilitated guest rooms and an open lobby area with a bar where patrons can socialize. It is to have shuttle service to the airport, the zoo, the Old Market and the CenturyLink Center.
Douglas County records show the property (whose sign says Econo Inn) officially changed hands in August. It remains open (and is to be called the Downtown Omaha Inn during the transition) and will continue to operate as renovations take place floor by floor, Lawsky said.
Calling the property a “diamond in the rough,” Gamble said the location is great but had been catering to and allowing “low-end business.”
The new management is trying to clean up the image. “We’ve reached out to the Police Department to tell them there are new people in town.”
For Gamble, this is a re-entry to the Omaha hotel market. In the mid-2000s he bought a former Holiday Inn Express in midtown, converted it and sold it a few years later.
Gamble, who lived awhile in Nebraska as a kid, said he often drove past the downtown Econo Lodge and saw potential. He and Lawsky, a college fraternity brother who previously worked for investment banks in New York, embarked on the GLI Hospitality venture together a few years ago.
Their 816 Hotel in the Westport area of Kansas City has thousands of Facebook followers and positive reviews for its themed rooms designed in the spirit of Kansas City attractions (such as its zoo and sports teams).
Omaha is GLI’s fourth property, Lawsky said, and the third it has purchased since April.
Once the 402 Hotel is established, Gamble said they hope to align with local partners to create themed rooms that reflect, for example, Creighton University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Boys Town, the Henry Doorly Zoo.
“When you check in you should feel Omaha,” Gamble said. “We try to convey a personality for our hotels; that’s why we use the area codes for names.”
Officially the Omaha property will be called the 402 Hotel #TheBigO, signaling a focus on social media. Gamble said the group also will “put the pedal to the metal on cross marketing,” since Kansas City and Omaha residents travel often to each other’s cities.
Keith Backsen, executive director of Visit Omaha, also known as the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he is looking forward to a new product in a pocket of downtown that recently has seen other re-investment.
The newly constructed health-centric Even Hotel is nearby, at 24th and Farnam Streets, and across the street from the future 402 Hotel are new Highline Apartments. A few area structures have been renovated; a few others are scheduled for rehabilitation.
Backsen said previous owners of 2211 Douglas weren’t engaged in tourism-related efforts. He expects a different approach by the new owners, who earlier reached out to him.
“It’s very exciting to see continued development in an area that was once a ... tired area of downtown,” he said.