Downtown hotel opened 25 years ago

Courtyard St. Cloud
The grand opening was not scheduled until April.

But 25 years ago next week, the first guests began arriving at the brand-new Radisson Suites Hotel in downtown St. Cloud.

The 103-room, nine-story facility was still getting the finishing touches as Carl and Pat Retzlaff of Milwaukee — in town for a paper workers convention at the next-door St. Cloud Civic Center — became the first guests to check in.

In all, guests checked into 30 rooms as part of the limited opening of a hotel that has gone on to become a downtown landmark.

"The Civic Center was under construction when we first laid out plans for the hotel," said Jim Graves, the CEO of Graves Hospitality, which built the hotel and owned it until 2012.

"The skyway connection we'd have there was a really favorable factor in going forward. And we saw a real need for a first-class luxury hotel in the St. Cloud metro area. Heretofore, that kind of facility hadn't really existed."

The hotel was laid out in a European style, compete with Victorian chandeliers and other trappings.

"It was in a historical part of the city on Fifth Avenue, and we thought that a Northern European look would be more appropriate for that site than doing something contemporary," said Graves, whose company just this past week was chosen to build a new hotel at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The hotel had a 20-year license to use the Radisson name. But in 2010, it was decided to rebrand it as an independent boutique hotel. It became Le St-Germain Suite Hotel.

Then, in 2012, Graves Hospitality sold the property for $6.2 million to St. Cloud Downtown Hotel LLC, a buyer controlled by Jeff Lamont of Aberdeen, South Dakota, the CEO and president of Lamont Companies.

"Emotionally, that was a tough decision," Graves said. "We were attached to it. It had been a major project for us. But, at the end of the day, it was the right thing to do. We were moving on to other things in other areas."

The new owners embarked on a massive renovation project beginning in May of last year. That project is tentatively scheduled to be completed by May 1, when the hotel will officially become a Courtyard by Marriott.

It has continued to operate throughout the renovation. Work on the rooms was completed one half at a time.

"When people come in, they're going to see that it will be very light, very bright and very contemporary," said general manager Chriss Wohlleber, who has worked at the hotel the past 22 years. "There will still be chandeliers, but they'll be modern chandeliers.

"Physically, the rooms are exactly the same dimensions. But they've been completely gutted with the exception of the TVs. We upgraded to flat-screens a year ago. So we didn't have to change those. But from the ceilings to the walls to the carpets, beds and drapes, everything is different. Even the refrigerators."

But regardless of the changes, Graves is just happy the hotel has continued to operate all these years.

"We knew if we built a timeless building with a good foundation and a good structure, it could last for generations," Graves said. "And I hope it keeps going for a long time to come."

Five years ago (2010)

Former longtime Times sports editor Frank Farrington died in Winter Haven, Florida, at the age of 101. Farrington was the sports editor at the Times from 1945 to the 1960s. He then worked at the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

10 years ago (2005)

Metro Bus ridership was on the rise in Sartell. Studies showed an almost 70 percent increase from October 2003 to September 2004 versus that same time period in 2002 and 2003. Officials, who said the numbers still had a ways to go, credited a route detour which caused buses to travel along Pinecone Road.

50 years ago (1965)

The National Guard completed work on snow removal in St. Cloud as the city continued to dig out after a three-day storm that dropped a total of 22 inches of snow.

75 years ago (1940)

The Times sponsored a Cooking School for local residents at the Junior High School Auditorium. Admission was free. Mrs. V. Elsner Smith, a noted home economics expert, was the lecturer, but the advance advertising said:

"Mrs. Smith will preside, not as lecturer, but as a gracious neighbor."

The ads also said:

"New and tempting dishes every homemaker will be eager to try will be created in a kitchen laboratory equipped with labor-saving devices and modern utensils."

Among the items in baskets given away to those attending: A can of spray courtesy of Lever Bros. Co., a package of All-Bran cereal, a package of Pillsbury Flour, and cartons of six 7 Up beverages courtesy of Gans Bottling Co. and six Dr. Pepper beverages courtesy of Charles Bernick Inc.

Reported by:  SCtimes.com