The Ramada Saga, Episode IV: A New Hope?

Tom Giffey

The ongoing tale of the downtown Eau Claire hotel formerly known as a Ramada Inn took another twist this week, with a new buyer seemingly riding to the rescue of the troubled business. Could this be the savior needed to bring the Barstow Street hotel back from the brink?

When last we checked in on our story, the hotel was to be put on the auction block in a foreclosure sale for the second time. Back in July, the former owners of the hotel and convention facility – SB Hotel Management (aka Amarjit, Surinder, and Kanwal Singh) – made the winning bid of $1.41 million at an Eau Claire Sheriff’s Department foreclosure sale. While they paid a deposit, they weren’t able to cough up the remaining $1.263 million and had to forfeit the hotel. Judge Jon Theisen scheduled a second sheriff’s sale for Tuesday, Sept. 17.

The latest sale began with a bid of $1.3 million from a representative of the lender for the property, Dougherty Funding. After that, it became a small-increment bidding war between Wayne Miller, representing SBM Holdings, and Allen Van Dellen, representing ECHC Properties, with Miller finally coming out on top with a $1.655 million bid. Who is Miller? According to the Leader-Telegram, Minneapolis-based Miller “has experience as an investor in the telecommunications, real estate and commercial lending sectors,” although this will be his first hotel. Miller told reporters that he plans to rehab the facility and obtain another franchise for it. (Earlier this year, the Ramada chain cut its ties the facility, which in addition to financial concerns has faced maintenance and code compliance problems. A court-appointed receiver, S&L Hospitality, has been running the hotel’s day-to-day operations for months.)

Mike Schatz, city economic development director, says that while he wasn’t familiar with Miller, “I hope (he is) someone who has the resources needed to turn the hotel around.” Schatz, who is also executive director of Downtown Eau Claire Inc., said having a quality hotel is a boon to the vitality of the neighborhood. “In my opinion it’s very critical to have  a hotel that’s well thought of and can house people that visit Eau Claire for conferences and other reasons,” he said. “We want to have an option for the community that allows them to stay downtown.”

As the winning bidder, Miller was required to pay a 10 percent down payment, which he did Tuesday. After the judge officially OKs the sale, he’ll have 10 days to pay the balance, or the second-highest bidder will have a shot at buying the hotel.

Miller told reporters that he had no business ties to the Singh brothers. However, it’s worth noting that the name of his company, SBM, is just one initial different than the name of the Singh’s firm, SB, and that extra initial happens to be “M” – as in “Miller.” Under the terms of the foreclosure sale, any bidder tied to the Singhs would have to pay a 25 percent deposit instead of 10 percent deposit. It remains to be seen if the name similarity is a coincidence or a clue to the next episode in the saga.