There are changes and improvements in store for the venerable Highland Hotel, a facility that was once a jewel in Great Bend’s tourism crown but that has since fallen on hard times.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce office, it was formally announced that Ambika Enterprises had purchased the hotel from Farmers Bank and Trust. The new owners have plans to renovate the complex located at 3017 West 10th.
“We’ve been trying for a year to secure a new owner for the property,” said chamber President Jan Peters. “We’ve been working diligently on this.”
But, not just any owners would do. “We wanted to make sure we had the right fit,” Peters said.
Travel and tourism has long been a vital piece of the economic puzzle for Great Bend. And, with the emphasis on the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway and other natural attractions, local officials have stepped up their efforts to promote this key industry.
“But, this has been a little bit of a challenge of late,” Peters said. “One of our main hotel properties has been under the weather.”
She was referring to the 170-some room Highland, the original portion of which was built in 1962. “It needs some upgrades.”
Admittedly, she said, maintaining a facility the size of the Highland is a major task and the staff has done wonders. But, the years have taken their toll.
This is where the “right fit” comes in to play. “We wanted someone who would make improvements. Ambika has the ability to make some renovations and plans to do so.”
The new owners will keep the existing personnel at the Highland and, for now, continue to operate it as the Highland. However, it will soon “fly a flag” of a major hotel brand, Peters said. Just what brand is not known for sure.
This will again put the hotel on a national reservation booking system. It used to be a Holiday Inn.
The extent of the upgrades are unknown, but the Patels want to reopen the coffee shop off the hotel lobby and would like to start serving evening meals.
Ambika is a partnership between husband and wife Tejal and Amarish Patel of Concorida, and an uncle Ishwar Patel of Vancouver, Canada. The family, which already operates smaller hotels in Concorida and Beatrice, Neb., officially took over the hotel portion of the Highland Complex Aug. 23.
The Patels had planned on being at the gathering Tuesday, but had other loose ends to tie up related to the sale. They will be in town today and will likely stay through the weekend.
“We wanted them to be introduced to the community,” Peters said. “They will need help.”
“This convention center is important to Great Bend,” said Loren Unruh, president of the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors and owner of the Best Western Angus Inn, which sits across the street from the Highland. It can’t help but increase Great Bend’s tourism profile to have the Highland restored to its former luster.
Having choices will help Great Bend get back into consideration by groups planning conventions, Peters said.
She touted the efforts made at improving Great Bend’s image and praised those involved. “That cooperative spirit is sitting at the helm right now.”
Farmers Bank Great Bend owned both the hotel and convention center. The sale involves the hotel portion of the facility only. The convention center and office complex is currently still owned by Farmers.
However, in June, the Great Bend City Council approved utilizing $500,000 donated by an anonymous group of local residents to purchase the convention center. The funds are being handled through the Great Bend Foundation.
The paper work for the city deal has not been signed, but could be finalized in a week or two.