By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
PERRY, Iowa, Jan. 18, 2018 -- Tom and Vickie Maxwell, entrepreneurs from the Edwardsville area in southern Illinois, were introduced as the new owners of the Hotel Pattee in Perry at a reception Wednesday evening, Jan. 17, at the hotel.
"What you have here is a jewel," Tom Maxwell told a crowd that filled the ballroom at the hotel. "It's so great! I want to maintain the integrity of the hotel. I want to grow it, if possible, but I at least want to maintain what this has been to the people of Perry."
And most users of the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which passes nearly in front of the hotel, regard it as one of the most important amenities on the whole trail.
On March 1, the Maxwells will succeed Jay and Denise Hartz, who have owned the hotel the last four years. Health concerns have made the Hartzes decide to relocate -- and they mentioned Florida.
"Together we put this thing together," Jay Hartz said, in thanking the local investors who have supported his family's ownership. "We're going to be moving on, and I don't think we'll ever find another Perry. But we will find some place without snow!"
During the Hartzes' ownership, they've re-established the 100-plus-year-old hotel's reputation for quality, service and fun, and they've been great supporters of the RRVT and other tourism initiatives in the area.
The Pattee, for most of its history, was just another three-story brick small town hotel. But in the 1990s, when it was being sold for back taxes, it was purchased by Perry native and philanthropist Roberta Green Ahmanson and her husband Howard Ahmanson, who live in southern California. They gave it an amazing $10 million renovation -- they eventually invested even more in it -- and turned it into an art-filled showcase of Midwestern life, with outstanding accommodations in its 40 themed rooms, excellent restaurant, bar, library and meeting facilities. They even built spas and a two-lane bowling alley into it. Veteran Iowa property developer Bill Knapp, of Des Moines, called it "the best restoration I've ever seen anywhere."
The Ahmansons continued their ownership of the hotel for 10 years, saying they did not expect to recover their fantastic investment, but wanted the hotel to operate profitably -- or at least not at a loss -- once they re-opened it. It struggled to do that through the first decade of the 2000s, and eventually closed. It had a couple of different ownership groups during that time, and frankly was wobbly, until the Hartzes came from St. Louis and took over, with local investors rallying around them.
Now come the Maxwells, who have been very successful entrepreneurs.
They are both natives of small towns in Missouri -- "Perry seems big to us," Tom said -- but they've spent most of the last 25 years in Edwardsville, Illinois. He did very well in a business selling surgical implants, tools and supplies to physicians and hospitals across Kansas, Missouri and southern Illinois. Meanwhile, Vickie has run two dance studios, sponsors a competitive dance team, and the two of them also have recently bought and invested in The Max Sports -- an fully-equipped gym, fitness center and community center in Alton, Illinois.
"In 2016, after I'd retired, I was hanging out at home," Tom told the Perry crowd. "Vickie finally said, 'Look, I married you for better or for worse, but I did not marry you for lunch. Find something to do!' "
He said he "had always been interested in the hotel business," noting that he'd stayed in so many of them during his sales career. "I started studying up on the hotel business, and I was really taken by it." He decided he might look for one to buy, and he first looked across his old sales territory in Kansas, Missouri and southern Illinois. Not finding any property that grabbed his attention, "I decided I'd look north in Iowa or south in Arkansas. So first I Googled 'hotels for sale in Iowa,' and the first thing that popped up was the Hotel Pattee."
He said he was astonished as he read about the Pattee, watched promotional videos the Hartzes have done, deep-searched the story of the Ahmansons and began building a storehouse of information.
He contacted the broker that the Hartzes were using, came to Perry two weeks ago, looked over the Pattee and had long conversations with the Hartzes. Vickie was getting her first look at the hotel and Perry on Wednesday.
"But I felt like I already knew a lot about it," she said. "That's because for several weeks Tom has been following me everywhere I go around our house, carrying his laptop with websites up about the Hotel Pattee, saying, 'Look at this! Look at this!' "
The Maxwells have two grown children. They plan to continue living in southern Illinois, "although I'll be here in Perry a lot -- maybe 15 days a month or so, depending on how much Vickie will let me travel," Tom said.
He said he has talked to a couple of hotel management companies as he considers how he wants to operate the hotel. But he said his preference would be "finding someone with local ties who has the training and experience to be able to run the hotel." He said while he'll "be a hands-on owner, I am not a micro-manager." He said he anticipates retaining most of the current Hotel Pattee staff.
He also said he doubted the couple would be seeking additional investment from people in Perry.
"We couldn't be happier about what the future holds," Tom Maxwell said, "for us and for this hotel."
Tom and Vickie Maxwell, new owners of the Hotel Pattee in Perry.