An Ashland couple with a flair for renovating local properties has purchased the Red Lion Hotel and vows to turn it into a destination for downtown Medford.
"We want a chi-chi factor," said Becky Neuman, who along with her husband, Doug, also owns the Ashland Springs Hotel, Lithia Springs Resort, Larks Restaurant, Waterstone Spa, and the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites. "We want to become a destination resort here."
The Neumans signed the papers Thursday for the Red Lion as part of a complicated deal involving the Medford Urban Renewal Agency, the city of Medford and a company called DHD LLC, set up by Lithia Motors executives Sid and Mark DeBoer.
DHD bought the entire 8-acre Red Lion property for $2.8 million with the intention of selling the hotel back to the Neumans and another portion to the city of Medford.
On Thursday, the Neumans erected a banner across the Red Lion Inn proclaiming the hotel, "The Inn at The Commons."
The Neumans, who paid $2 million for their portion of the hotel property, say they will invest $1.5 million in its renovation.
The city of Medford will complete its purchase of a 3.29-acre portion of the Red Lion property for $1.6 million today. The money for the purchase will come from urban renewal funds.
The hotel features 185 rooms, but that number will drop to 118 when the city takes over its portion of the property.
The city will demolish the rooms to make way for a public parking lot.
While DHD was the driving force in putting the deal together, once the deals are completed, it will have no ownership in any part of the property. The hotel property sits immediately across Riverside Avenue from Lithia Motors' new corporate headquarters and from The Commons redevelopment project that includes two park blocks.
The Neumans say they intend to turn the Red Lion property into an attraction that will add to the make-over of downtown Medford.
The hotel will include a remodeled restaurant named Larks, featuring the same upscale dining as the Larks restaurant at the Ashland Springs Hotel. A wall separating the lounge and restaurant will be removed to create one large space. The restaurant will be known as the Larks at Medford.
The hotel facade facing Riverside Avenue will be renovated and landscaping will be added to create more separation between the building and the street.
The convention center at the inn will undergo major upgrades, with the Neumans hoping to attract events with as many as 1,200 people.
Under a separate deal with the city, the inn will be able to use the new public parking lot for convention events.
Doug Neuman said downtown Medford is undergoing a transformation, so the timing is right to create a destination hotel.
"What we're really buying into is that things are happening here," he said.
The city also is considering plans to reconfigure Hawthorne Park, across Bear Creek from the hotel, to create a more family-friendly environment.
Neuman said he's hopeful the city might eventually build an aquatics center in Hawthorne as well as a pedestrian bridge that would connect the park and the inn.
In addition, he said, the inn hopes to connect to the area's rapidly growing wine industry and provide a central location for wine tours.
The couple spent Thursday looking over the property, trying to determine the best way to make it more welcoming.
They're envisioning a new entry that will be more obvious to the casual visitor. They also plan to upgrade the rooms, bringing in new mattresses, flat screen TVs, carpeting and other upgrades to make them look and feel fresh.
The Neumans want to tone down the impression that the hotel is in a sea of asphalt by creating garden areas and softening concrete walls.
"It's not going to have a corporate look," Doug Neuman said.
Mark DeBoer, vice president of real estate for Lithia Motors, said that it was important for the downtown to attract someone like the Neumans, who could transform the Red Lion, particularly as The Commons project nears completion.
"The driver was to get some new blood in here," he said.
Since the DeBoers didn't know much about running a hotel, they looked for someone who could, DeBoer said.
"We wanted to get the hotel in the hands of some good people," he said.
Currently, the occupancy rate is running at a low 40 percent. Improving the occupancy rates will be one of the priorities.
"We do sell sleep," Doug Neuman said.
While the Neumans are well known for their Ashland projects, they say they look at all their work in terms of benefiting the region.
"My passion is Southern Oregon," Becky Neuman said.
She said there are regional interests that connect Ashland, Medford and other areas in the county.
"I'm so thankful for The Commons," she said. "I've always liked it down here, and there's momentum now."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.