PEORIA — Visitors planning to stay at the Marriott Pere Marquette in Downtown Peoria are being told that, after Jan. 23, the hotel will no longer carry the Marriott name.

"The hotel will no longer be associated with Marriott, but will continue annual operations as the Pere Marquette and your reservations will be honored," a Jan. 3 letter from the Marriott Corp. informed a guest coming from Chicagoland.

The reason the Marriott Corp. might remove its name from the Pere Marquette Hotel is that owner Gary Matthews is behind in his payments, said City Manager Patrick Urich, who received permission from the Peoria City Council on Thursday to negotiate with Matthews. The developer also is behind in his payments to the city.

Matthews presently owes the city $6.7 million and looks to refinance his debt at a lower interest rate, said Urich, noting that Matthews owes the city $700,000 in accrued interest.

Matthews also is seeking to refinance loans with four banks that invested $33 million in the $100 million project that restored the Pere Marquette, which went back into business in 2013, and built the Courtyard Peoria Downtown, the hotel that opened next door to the Pere Marquette in 2014. The city provided Mathews with $29 million in bonds for the project, giving new life to the 286-room hotel that first opened in 1927 and the 116-room Courtyard.

"Time is of the essence," said Urich, regarding plans to negotiate with Matthews.

Urich wouldn't comment on Marriott's stated plans to sever the company's association with the Pere Marquette. "I see what's out there but I can't speak for Marriott."

First District Councilwoman Denise Moore, who attended the executive session Thursday, said she was confident that residents will be protected in the renegotiation process.

"The city manager has presented the council with a plan. I'm comfortable with the movement that's taking place," she said.

Moore said she was most concerned that the hotel remain open and serve as a top-quality operation. Regarding the possible loss of the Marriott name, she said, "As for the flag, you don't own that. You just lease that."

But Barb Hoffman, a travel agent with Suzi Davis Travel, said a hotel's brand name is vital.

"It's important to have a name that people know. It's all about name recognition when it comes to travel," she said.

A reliable source noted that switching flags was no small matter for a hotel the size of the Pere Marquette, requiring a major overhaul.

"Each hotel brand has its own look, its own style that's reflected in everything from the look of the lobby down to the towels," said the source.

Branding is particularly important in the hotel industry, said Vanessa Horwell in Hotel Business Review.

"Many customers make their purchasing decision well in advance of interacting with the product. Potential guests do not typically visit a property, eat in the restaurant, or lay in the bed before making a reservation," she said.

Many aspects of branding can be crucial to driving sales and maintaining a high average daily rate, Horwell said.

 

Steve Tarter covers Peoria city and county government. He can be reached at starter@pjstar.com and 686-3260. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter and facebook.com/tartersource.