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Four Ways Red Lion is Roaring Back

National Hotel

It's been a rather rigorous few years for Red Lion Hotels. But after spending the past three cleaning up its balance sheet, the hotelier is poised for a comeback. We sat down with interim CEO Jim Evans and CFO Julie Shiflett this week at the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show in Manhattan to find out what's in store.

1) Upping its franchise locations


The Spokane-based company has been around for 50 years and had a significant presence in the Pacific Northwest during the '80s and '90s before being bought out by Doubletree and later Hilton, they tell us. After dropping to 16 franchised hotels, it's planning to expand its three arms exponentially: Red Lion Hotels (multi-story, full-service hotels averaging 150-plus rooms); Red Lion Inns & Suites (one- to two-story, value hotels in smaller markets); and the Leo Hotel Collection (individual boutiques). This year, it added 11 franchises, jumping its total to 30, and it plans to add at least 20 next year. EVP Ron Burgett will lead the charge.

2) Taking over the west


"Ron told me we were opening in Paris, and I said, 'I knew we're eventually heading East, but France is a bit far out there'," Julie laughs. It was actually Greater Los Angeles' Perris submarket, one of the three hotels Red Lion has opened in the past four weeks. The others: Ontario, Calif. (with Ron, above) and Walla Walla, Wash. Now its entire portfolio totals 55 hotels. The Western US remains its focus, especially primary and secondary markets from Washington through Arizona. New targets: Dallas, Houston, and Austin. A big part of Red Lion's real estate is meeting space, so it's following where there's demand. But no matter where Julie goes, she'll always have her motorhome—the avid WSU Cougars fan is spending next Thursday through Sunday in Martin Stadium's parking lot, an annual family tradition. (The games have been a great training for navigating the ups and downs of life, she says.)

3) Selling off non-critical hotels and revamping its brand


Red Lion tapped CBRE's Chris Burdett to market six hotels that are no longer strategic, like the pictured 150-room Red Lion Hotel Pocatello in Pocatello, Idaho (four are in Washington and two in Idaho). Proceeds will be used to pay down debt, for renovations, provide sliver equity, and support franchise growth. Red Lion expects to invest $16M in property improvements by year's end, with more revamps planned for 2014. It would also like to eventually offer management services to investors like REITs.

4) Hiring a new CEO


Jim—formerly CEO of Brand USA, Ardent Hotel Advisors, Jenny Craig, and Best Western—took the interim helm when Jon Eliassen announced his retirement in August. Now Red Lion is on the search for a new CEO, and interviews start next week. (The aim: an early 2014 placement.) When not working, Jim's a family man with two daughters and a son (two are also in the hotel biz), as well as three granddaughters. Julie isn't the only football fan on staff—Jim follows Notre Dame, while Red Lion's general counsel used to play for Santa Clara. (Above is recently completed renovations at its Tempe, Ariz. hotel... the ceiling looks high enough to toss some pigskin around, don't you think?)