Better days ahead for historic hotel

General manager Cathy Grunwald showed one of the refurbished rooms at the AmericInn Burnsville. (Photo by John Gessner)

AmericInn was
original Country
Inn and Suites

Today it’s a reclamation project. But when it opened in 1987, the hotel at 14331 Nicollet Court in Burnsville made history.

It was the first Country Inn and Suites by Carlson, now a widely franchised brand built by the iconic Carlson Companies of Minnetonka. It opened next to a Country Kitchen restaurant in the triangle created by County Road 42 and the confluence of interstates 35E and 35W.

A new ownership group is reviving the 82-room property after what it says were years of neglect under the previous owner.

Now the AmericInn Burnsville, it was bought in July by Plymouth-based Ruhr Development, which owns and operates 14 lodging properties in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Ruhr is spending $3.5 million for the hotel and a top-to-bottom renovation that will restore its standing among Burnsville’s nine lodging properties as a reputable, midpriced, limited-service hotel, President Jeff Ruhr said.

“It is undeniable that it was on its heels. The great thing about that property is its history,” said Amie Burrill, executive director of Experience Burnsville (also known as the Burnsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, which collects a lodging tax to promote the city’s hotels).

The hotel’s new manager, Cathy Grunwald, is “absolutely dynamite,” Burrill she said. “She’s so good for that property.”

The Carlson Companies eventually sold the property, which then operated for years as a successful Days Inn, Burrill said. After another sale about six years ago, it became an AmericInn. The owners eventually lost the AmericInn franchise rights, she said, and the struggling hotel had a run as the independent Burnsville Inn.

“Financially, it was not in a good way,” according to Ruhr, who said he bought the property from a group called Tricon Lodging. “The storm clouds were gathering, let’s put it that way.”

Ruhr and the mostly new hotel staff were immediately confronted with client-driven headaches, including an August drug bust in the parking lot, Ruhr said.

“The property was well-known to the Police Department,” he said. “We found that out on the first day.”

Homeless people were discovered in some of the rooms after they’d cut window screens and broken windows or doors to gain entrance, Grunwald said. An inattentive front-desk staff under the previous ownership was partly to blame, Ruhr said.

“They were obviously able to get into the building prior to our being here,” said Grunwald, a 12-year Ruhr employee who previously managed the company’s Country Inn and Suites in Decorah, Iowa. “It was a diligent challenge that was on my menu right away.”

The property was listed as having 75 rooms, but the new owners discovered 82. Some spaces were piled with unused or discarded items.

“In the first three days we emptied two 30-yard dumpsters,” Ruhr said.

But he wasn’t discouraged.

“We weren’t just showing up and buying a property and saying we hope it does well,” he said. “We are hands-on, active, experienced management, who spend most of our time investing in our property and our people. If we invest in those two things, the guest part will take care of itself.”

The rooms are now a third of the way through a total interior makeover that should be finished in March, according to Ruhr, who said his father, Patrick Michael, was the original president of the Chanhassen-based AmericInn chain.

The big fix started with repairing doors, locks and windows for security, Ruhr said. The hotel also has a new camera system. Room renovations began with simply making some rooms “habitable,” Grunwald said.

“Microwaves, refrigerators, telephones — things that most guests would expect in rooms,” she said.

The fully renovated rooms will have all been “gutted” and refurbished, she said.

“Basically, when it comes to the rooms, everything went out and all new stuff came back in,” Ruhr said. “There was some carpet we kept because it was brand-new carpet, like within the last two years, but some rooms, even with brand-new carpet, had been so heavily smoked in we couldn’t save that carpet.”

Ruhr likes the challenge.

“A lot of people want to buy a high-end, functioning hotel that’s doing really well, just own it and take the cash flow,” he said. “I like to look at them and say, ‘What can it be versus what it is?’ ”