By Collin Lueck
After eight months of construction, the public got their first look inside a major addition to Merrill’s AmericInn on Dec. 15. The 20-room addition, attached to the north end of the original hotel, features an elevator and foyer meeting area.
For owners Gary and Mary Schwartz, this is the latest in a series of projects they’ve undertaken in that area in recent years.
“I’ve always had an interest in developing the community,” Gary said.
Occupancy was up at the hotel and it seemed to be the right time to expand, Gary added.
“We were seeing event weekends and other times where we started turning people away,” he said.
The Schwartz’s invested $1.2 million in the addition. Within the parameters of AmericInn’s requirements, the Schwartz’s sourced everything they could locally for the project.
“Where we had discretion, we bought local,” Gary said. “We feel we need to support the community while we’re building for the community,”
The AmericInn brand has been rated #1 in central Wisconsin for the past six years by Expedia.
“It’s a very well-run chain with very high customer scoring,” Gary said.
Even during the construction period, the Merrill hotel received a 98% customer service score by AmericInn. The Schwartz’s credit their staff for that accomplishment.
“Mary and I couldn’t even consider this without the great staff we have,” Gary said. “I can’t do it all – they do it.”
“We get compliments every day on our staff,” Mary added.
About halfway through the Merrill building project, AmericInn announced that they had sold the franchise to Wyndham, the largest hotel group in the world. AmericInn ranked #2 in the nation among mid-scale hotels last year, which attracted Wyndham to purchase the franchise.
Under Wyndham ownership, the AmericInn brand will remain intact and the Merrill hotel is stay under the Schwartz’s local ownership.
“We’re very excited to become part of the Wyndham group,” Mary said. “It’s going to be good for us.”
The addition project broke ground in April under general contactor Mike Lange Construction, who has worked with the Schwartz’s on other projects such as Los Mezcales and Arby’s.
The new addition features 20 rooms, eight of them suites with kitchenettes. Schwartz said there is a need for more larger rooms with kitchenettes as they are seeing more business people making extended stays in Merrill.
State of the art features include 50-inch televisions in the larger rooms and showers designed so they don’t require a door or curtain.
Each floor of the addition has a handicap accessible room. The elevator in the addition makes it possible to easily access the upper floor.
“Now that we have an elevator, we can have an ADA room on the second floor,” general manager Ernie Stender said.
The addition also features a fitness room that was designed with the assistance of Riverside Athletic Club owner Paul Kienitz.
The next phase of the project is to remodel all 45 of the rooms in the original hotel to match the look of the new addition. The remodeling job will represent another $300,000 to $400,000 investment in the property.
“I’m excited to see what the older section will look like,” Stender added.
The Schwartz’s purchased the former Carl’s Foodlane property in the late 1980s. The AmericInn originally opened on that site in 2002.
“Very quietly you’ve done an awful lot for this community in recent years,” said Merrill Mayor Bill Bialecki during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We’re certainly going to do our part to bring more events to town to keep this place filled up.”
Local lodging properties are economic engines that help drive a community’s economy, Gary noted. Figures from Longwoods International show that visitors to a community spend about 21.5 percent of the cost for their stay on lodging.
“That means that roughly for every dollar spent on lodging, we can expect another four dollars to be spent in the community,” Gary said. “In addition, the one dollar in lodging goes to taxes in Merrill, wages for a staff of 20 in Merrill and other services, and products we work hard to purchase in Merrill to run the hotel.”
In conjunction with the grand opening and open house, a drawing was held with the following winners: Sue Kunkel, Park City Credit Union – 1st place, free stay in a spa suite; Mark Radtke, Wisconsin Building Supply – 2nd place, free party in the hospitality room; Don Harris, Property Image LLC – 3rd place, $100 GC; and Jana Johnson, Johnson’s – 4th place, $50 GC.