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Banker: Local owner sought for New World Inn
[December 03, 2012]

Banker: Local owner sought for New World Inn

COLUMBUS, Dec 03, 2012 (Columbus Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- It's not yet lunch time, but New World Inn's new manager Brian Pregeant already has an issue.

"This place is a mess," a frustrated Camaco employee said to Pregeant. She was standing in the middle of a conference room that hasn't completely recovered from a St. Bonaventure Catholic Church banquet the night before and is slated to host the manufacturer's Christmas party that evening.

Pregeant is listening patiently as the woman dresses him down. It's Saturday, his second day on the job.

"I've had this booked for over a year. I'm not dealing with this right now," she said before he leaves her with a promise to address the area. He continues our tour of the hotel.

Pregeant replaces Mike Barnett, who assumed the post for about six months before his departure. The new manager was in Lubbock, Texas, when the hotel he was managing closed for major renovations. Pregeant got the call early last week notifying him of his new assignment.

He currently occupies one of the hotel's 125 rooms, a step down for a man used to managing venues with upwards of 300 rooms.

Speaking in a telephone interview Wednesday, Barnett did not mince words about rumors of the hotel and convention hall closing.

"You hear people who have no understanding of finance say things like, 'I guess that hotel's closing,'" Barnett said. "That's just not true." He was removed from his position the following day.

The managerial transition is part of the hotel's larger state of flux. According to Ron Weaklend, executive vice president of Fremont's First State Bank and Trust, the former owner, RNK Powers Enterprises Inc., handed New World Inn off to a group of lenders in a buyout in April of last year, his bank being the lead investor.

Pregeant said this lender is the one with the largest stake of the group of six banks invested in New World Inn.

The former New World Inn owner also sold Fremont's Clarion Hotel to the same group.

Weaklend explained that the hotel's financial decline is tied to downward trends in the construction economy, a major part of Columbus' economic activity until the housing market collapse. As that industry took a hit, the need to house commuting construction workers shrunk.

That decline, coupled with the increasing rarity of corporate travelers who are now telecommuting to meetings they would have attended in person, has taken a big piece out of New World Inn's revenue stream, Weaklend said.

Weaklend would not comment on the exact amount of his bank's financial commitment to New World Inn, which will turn 40 next year. He did disclose that the bank has seen no financial returns, although the hotel can sometimes meet its expenses on revenues generated. During months when New World Inn ends up in the red, Pregeant and Barnett said the banks are liable for the losses.

In addition to providing funds required to continue operating the hotel, Weaklend said the bank is actively pursuing a local owner.

"In my opinion, it needs to be locally owned. Local ownership would be the best possible end result for that hotel," he said.

The county assessor's website has an appraised value of $2,463,585 for New World Inn and lists RNK Powers Enterprises Inc. and Depalma Hotel Corporation -- Pregeant's employer and Barnett's former -- as owners.

While the bank is working to stabilize revenues, Weaklend said his bank has no intention of becoming New World's Inn's permanent owner.

"We're a community bank. We understand the value that this property has in the city. We're not going to abandon it," he said. "What we need to quell is people being afraid to book a party or wedding there. We've managed it since 2011, and we have no intention of closing the doors." In the interim, Pregeant is working on a number of improvements at the hotel including a fresh paint job and more appealing signage for travelers passing by on 33rd Avenue.

The new manager also brings a new head chef to cook for the hotel's two restaurants -- Legends Sports Grille and Charter Room Restaurant. Both are currently open serving lunch and dinner.

___ (c)2012 the Columbus Telegram (Columbus, Neb.) Visit the Columbus Telegram (Columbus, Neb.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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