SIOUX CITY — A Georgia-based developer is working to transform the former Sioux City Hotel & Conference Center into an upscale downtown senior living facility.
Fortune MD, headquartered in Atlanta, acquired the 12-story building at 707 Fourth St., through an LLC called Amera SL of Sioux City, for $5.35 million in late October of last year. The former owner of the hotel, CSC Hospitality LLC, had paid $4.5 million for it less than three years earlier.
Fortune MD COO Hampton Obier said the former hotel, which housed about 200 rooms, will be converted into a 160-room senior living facility, with independent living, assisted living and memory care. The facility will be called Amera Gardens.
Obier said his firm is planning to spend around $20 million on substantial renovations at the once-popular hotel, which had suffered declining fortunes for years.
Demolition of the interiors was about 50 percent complete as of March 9, Obier wrote in an email.
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“It’s going to be a major overhaul. The interior of the building will not look like it once was. It will be outfitted to really bring in the old and the new,” he said. “It’s going to have a nice, modern touch. Cleanliness is very, very important, so all the surfaces will be remade, because cleanliness is one of the most important things that we need to provide our residents.”
By the mid-to-latter part of this year, Obier said, the facility should have a showroom open for prospective residents to tour. Construction should be finished by either late this year or early 2023, with a grand opening that spring.
The former hotel was ideally suited for upscale senior living, Obier said — it’s in the heart of Sioux City’s busy downtown, very near (and connected via the skywalk to) MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center and the Sioux City Convention Center.
“It’s just a beautiful spot to allow seniors to engage with their community and just remain active,” he said. For seniors, the opportunity to reside in downtown Sioux City is “a tremendous value proposition,” he said.
Amera Gardens, which will be a private-pay facility, will offer studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units at priced at what Obier described as the “market rate.” Existing rooms in the hotel will be reconfigured or adjoined, with living spaces becoming larger in the process.
The owners are envisioning various amenities, including a salon, a barbershop, a theater, a library, lounges, a memory garden, places for activities, a large dining room and a private dining room for visitors and families. There will also be exam rooms where outside doctors (not employed by Amera Gardens) can care for residents.
No publicly accessible commercial spaces are planned.
“Even though the building itself does have a public-facing sense to it, it will be just for the residents there, because we have to protect the safety of our residents,” Obier said.
Mayor Bob Scott said he’s pleased with the new owners’ plans for the building.
“I think it’s a great deal, if it all pans out. I think it’ll be great. It’s better than having it just sit there doing nothing,” he said. “I hope they can get it pulled off, I really do.”
The mayor agreed with the developers’ assessment that senior housing is a productive use for the property.
“I think it’s probably better than a hotel right there, to tell you the truth, simply because there’s a need for more housing,” Scott said.
City Economic Development Director Marty Dougherty stressed that the city’s involvement in the project has been minimal, limited to parking and skywalk-related matters.
The Sioux City Hotel & Conference Center, whose owners once had grand plans of their own for the property, ceased operations last year, shortly before the sale was finalized. The new owners learned about the property well before the hotel closed down and had toured it as early as November 2020.
The 12-story hotel opened in early 1975 as the Hilton Inn on the Plaza. When it was new, the hotel had a reputation for plush elegance, with chic interiors and cocktail waitresses in velour dresses at the 12th floor Showroom Lounge; the property attracted major meetings, conventions, galas and other events. In the spring of 1975 it had meetings booked as far in advance as March, 1978.
In more recent years the hotel had operated as a Howard Johnson. At the end of 2018, an entity called CSC Hospitality purchased the former Howard Johnson and renamed it the Sioux City Hotel & Conference Center, which was the same name the hotel had carried for a time before it was the Howard Johnson.
Built as part of a downtown urban renewal campaign in the 1970s, the hotel was once one of the premier hotels in Sioux City, but the property had fallen on hard times long before CSC purchased it. City leaders blamed the hotel’s decrepitude and poorly-run operations for a loss of business at the city-owned Convention Center, which is across the street and connected by the skywalk.
The hotel had been the only one connected to the Convention Center, until the opening of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel immediately adjacent to the Convention Center in 2019.
The former Hilton has changed hands repeatedly in recent years. After one transfer in ownership, it was called the Sioux City Hotel & Conference Center, the same name as it was later given after the 2019 sale.
In 2014, the hotel went through foreclosure and a sheriff’s sale. A year later, the hotel became affiliated with the chain that owns the Howard Johnson brand.
A succession of owners attempted various upgrades and renovations, including new beds, flat-screen TVs, mini-refrigerators and microwave ovens in guest rooms and extensive pool repairs.
“Many people tried over the years, but it just hadn’t worked out,” Scott said.
Bob Zachariah, the former hotel’s managing director and a longtime veteran of the hotel industry, said in 2019 that the hotel’s then-new owners had big plans to restore its yesteryear glamour, including extensive, 14-month renovations that would cost “quite a few million dollars.”
Zachariah said he hoped someday the hotel would again fly the flag of a national chain — after it lost the Howard Johnson brand, it became one of the few hotels in Sioux City not affiliated with a national brand.
The COVID-19 pandemic struck the following year, and occupancy rates of hotels across the country were hit hard.