Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Signature Inn's History, Part Two

Up until January 1999, Signature Inn was run by John Bontreger, who founded the company back in 1978.  In 1999, Signature Inns merged with Jameson Inns and became part of the Kitchin Hopsitality family of hotels.  Kitchin Hospitality was acquired in January 2004 by Jameson Inns, Inc.  Jameson was then acquired by J.E. Robert Companies in May 2006.  J.E. Robert was a majority investor in Longhouse Hospitality and in August 2006, Jameson merged with Longhouse Hopsitality.  At some point in 2006, many of the Signature Inn Hotels would be rebranded as Jameson Inns, though a few still kept the Signature Inn name.

In late 2011, Jameson faced foreclosure on the loan it took out to finance the 2006 merger.  They filed for bankruptcy to avoid foreclosure, but to no avail.  Jameson had over 100 of its properties foreclosed upon, leaving only 12 properties in the chain by the end of 2012.  None of those properties were original Signature Inn locations.

America's Best Franchising acquired the company in 2012, and included in the deal was the Signature Inn brand.  Apparently, even though Signature Inn had all but disappeared from the hotels, Jameson still held the rights to the Signature Inn name.  ABF has no plans to do anything with the brand at this time, but the possibility still exists that it could be rolled out in the future.

According to what I could find while searching the internet, the chain consisted of a grand total of 28 locations.  I cannot be sure if all 28 operated at the same time, as the Canton, Ohio, and Plymouth, Michigan, locations were not on the first archived version of Signature Inn's site back in 1998.  So far, I've not been able to locate any property records showing when those locations were sold.  With a build date of 1996 for the Carmel location and the Springfield location joining in 1997, it's possible the other two locations could have been dropped from the chain before then.  What I do know is that in 1998, the chain was at 26 locations.

After Canton's and Plymouth's departure, the next location to be dropped would be the Northeast Cincinnati location in early 2002.  Next to go in late 2003 or early 2004 was the Florence, Kentucky, location.  Cincinnati North followed behind somewhere between February and April 2004.  Bettendorf, Iowa, disappeared from the web site in mid-2005.  Dayton, Ohio, was sold in June 2005 and Terre Haute, Indiana, was sold in December 2005.

The Indianapolis Northwest (their first hotel) and Indianapolis East locations were sold off somewhere between mid-2004 and mid-2006.  Unfortunately, I was unable to pin down a more exact time frame for these due to how the site was archived.  Property records were not much help for these locations either.

Somewhere between September 2006 and October 2006, the Columbus, Ohio, location was gone from the site (the county auditor shows the property was sold in February 2006).  Also of note is that somewhere around this point in time, a lot of the remaining establishments would be under the Jameson Inns name.  However, it appears that Springfield, Illinois; Normal, Illinois; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Lafayette, Indiana; and South Bend, Indiana, would keep the Signature Inn name.

As of late 2006, the chain was down to 17 locations.  The next one would be sold in August 2007, that one being the Fort Wayne, Indiana, location.  The rest of the chain was granted a reprieve until February 2010 when the Springfield, Illinois location was closed (that hotel was demolished two months later).  According to property records I've been able to find, the Lafayette, Indiana, location was no longer part of the chain as of May 2010.

The remaining 14 locations would be safe until sometime in early 2011 when Kokomo, Indiana, would no longer be affiliated with the chain.

The next round of closures came in late November or early December 2012.  Normal, Illinois; Elkhart, Indiana; Evansville, Indiana; Indianaoplis West; Indianapolis South; and Muncie, Indiana, would all be removed from the chain, dropping the number of hotels from 13 down to seven.

When the end of 2012 rolled around, the remaining seven locations would all be sold off, those being Peoria, Illinois; Indianapolis/Castleton; Indianapolis/Carmel; South Bend, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky, East; Louisville, Kentucky South; and Knoxville, Tennessee.

My next installment begins highlighting each of the locations, one per post in roughly the order they were built.  I have been able to visit and photograph (from the outside) 17 locations so far.  One of these days I hope to have a chance to spend a night or two in one of these establishments.

Sources for this article include the following:
“Inside ABF’s Jameson Inn deal with the CEO” – David Eisen, Hotel Investment News, 12/20/2012
ABF aims to get Jameson Inn back in business” – Brendan Manley, Hotel News Now, 12/20/2012
Jameson Inns joins Longhouse Hospitality” – Atlanta Business Chronicle, 8/2/2006
Jameson Inns shareholders vote to drop REIT status” – Atlanta Business Chronicle, 12/22/2003
Investors Taking 2 Hotel REITS Private” – Mark Heschmeyer, CoStar Group Realty Information, 5/24/2006

Friday, June 12, 2015

Signature Inn's History, Part One

Signature Inn was founded in 1978 by John Bontreger.  The idea was to be a mid-priced brand that was set up to meet the needs of business travelers, along with those traveling for leisure.  The first location opened on March 12, 1981 in Indianapolis, Indiana.   According to a 1998 capture of their website:
“Signature Inn pioneered the ‘value driven,’ mid-priced segment of the lodging industry.  We developed accommodations and services especially for the business traveler, those not commonly found in budget motels or full-service hotels.  Our hotels are strategically located at business travelers' destination points, that is, in high traffic areas near food and beverage establishments.  Early on we realized we couldn't be all things for all people.  Therefore our concept is focused on providing first-class accommodations in a first-class environment within a moderately priced segment, the most profitable segment of the lodging industry."

Some of the business amenities included a reclining chair, a 12-foot work station, guest offices, a business center, interview centers, and modem ports for laptop computers. The hotel also included amenities such as free cable and HBO, swimming pools, spa rooms, fitness rooms at some locations, and discounts at nearby restaurants. Even though some of the amenities mentioned are commonplace in many hotels now, they were a concept that was largely unheard of except in larger (more expensive) full-service hotels. They realized that while the bulk of their weekday business came from business travelers, they needed to market themselves to the leisure travelers as well.

As stated above, their first hotel was opened in 1981 in northwest Indianapolis, Indiana.  Many more locations were built through the 1980s, with at least one each year being build up through 1989.  two more were constructed in the mid-1990s, one in 1994 and one in 1996.  Two locations were other hotels purchased by Signature Inn, one in 1987 and one in 1997.  From what records I've been able to find, the chain consisted of 28 locations.  Indiana, the chain's home state, contained half of their locations.  Ohio contained five locations, Illinois and Kentucky each had three, and Iowa, Michigan, and Tennessee each had one hotel.

Below is a timeline I've put together showing the chain's growth:
1981 – Indianapolis Northwest (IN) opens
1982 – Fort Wayne (IN) opens
1983 – Indianapolis/Castleton and Lafayette (IN) open
1984 – Muncie (IN) and Cincinnati Northeast (OH) open
1985 – Indianapolis West, Indianapolis South, Indianapolis East, and Kokomo (IN), and Columbus (OH) open
1986 – Evansville and South Bend (IN), and Florence (KY) open
1987 – Elkhart and Terre Haute (IN), and Cincinnati North and Dayton (OH) open.  Terre Haute was formerly another hotel before becoming a Signature Inn
1988 – Normal and Peoria (IL), Louisville South (KY), and Canton (OH) open
1989 – Bettendorf (IA), Plymouth (MI), and Knoxville (TN) all open
1994 – Louisville East (KY) opens
1996 – Indianapolis/Carmel opens
1997 – Springfield (IL) joined the chain after being a Sheraton and a Best Western

All of the original 1980s locations had a shallow peaked roof with a vertical area at the top of the roof which allowed the hotels' signage to be mounted on the roof.  The canopy roofs were designed to match the rest of the buildings.  Many had skylights at the peak of the canpoies, some with lights to help shine some light up toward the skylights and down toward the driveway.  Another notable feature of the original buildings are the swimming pools that were not fully rectangular.  They had a bend in the middle of them that made them look somewhat S-shaped.

Four hotels, however, did not match the standard Signature Inn design.  The Springfield, Illinois, location was originally a Sheraton and consisted of three separate buildings.  When Signature Inn took over, a canopy was added to mimic that of the chain's other facilities.  That one did not contain skylights.  The Terre Haute, Indiana, location was an L-shaped building with a flat roof.  A canopy typical of the other inns was constructed when Signature Inn took over.  I am unsure at this point what that hotel used to be prior to 1987.  The Jeffersontown, Kentucky, location was built in 1994 and has its own unique look, possibly due to a co-branding with Best Western.  The Carmel, Indiana, location was built in 1996 and shares the common boxy-hotel look that many hotels nowadays have.

Below is an aerial view, courtesy of Bing Maps, of the Castleton, Indiana location:
This is what a typical Signature Inn looked like, with a few variations.  Some had indoor pools.  Though many were F-shaped (or an inverted F), there were a couple that didn't share the same footprint.

In January 1999,Signature Inn was sold to another company.  My next post within the coming weeks will outline the hotel chain after its sale.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Why Signature Inn???

logo from the archived version of signature-inns.com at archive.org

Over the last six months, I've been researching the history of Signature Inn hotels.  Why???  I stayed in one in Cincinnati with the family back in 1991 and I don't know if it was the look of the building itself, the look of the lobby, or the logo (maybe a combination of the three) that really stood out to me.  I ended up getting a directory and a pen from the hotel...both, unfortunately long gone.  At least I still have the memory!

I also remember seeing one in Canton near Belden Village Mall...I noticed at one point the Signature Inn name was gone from the building and was curious as to why it became another hotel.  But since that was before the advent of the internet, there wasn't much else to do but wonder.

My interest became rekindled within the last year when I started working within a 15 minute drive of one of the former Cincinnati locations.  I'm not 100% certain, but I'm pretty sure that was the location we stayed in all those years ago.  It, too, is another hotel chain, and I really started wondering what happened to them.  Thankfully I now have the internet that wasn't available to me 20 years ago.

Since beginning this project, I found that the chain was more far-reaching than the two locations I knew of.  I was also able to trace the history from the hotel's inception to its eventual demise.  Now with all of the information I have, the trick is to figure out how to present it.  I plan on adding information somewhere between once a week and once every two weeks.

It's been a fun journey so far and hopefully I'll come up with some more information as this project progresses!