Longtime general manager reflects on RTP hotel’s history
The Radisson Hotel was built as the first and only hotel in the Research Triangle Park, and Ron Hunter said he’s been there since the beginning.
The 63-year-old is now general manager of the hotel, which first opened in 1972 as an independent hotel named the Governor’s Inn.
When he first started 41 years ago, he was a student at N.C. Central University. He said he got a contract job to work at a hotel banquet, later got a part-time position at the hotel as a waiter, and worked his way up.
“It’s been somewhat of a labor of love,” Hunter said of his career at the hotel. “While it’s been the same place, there’s been a different challenge every year.”
Now Hunter said he’s working to help direct booked customers to other hotel locations, and to help employees find other positions. He said the hotel has been sold three times, and now he’s preparing for what appears to be the last.
The hotel is planned to be sold to the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, the organization that manages the 7,000-acre Research Triangle Park. The foundation plans to demolish the structure after the purchase.
The sale is expected to be finalized in the next couple of months. The hotel will close before the foundation takes ownership.
“We just felt that it was something that needed to happen as we think about how we want the park to be more competitive to maintain its global brand,” Foundation President and CEO Bob Geolas said of the hotel’s purchase and demolition in an interview Monday.
The hotel is in one of three areas of the business park targeted by park officials for redevelopment. The focus of the effort right now is on another one of the three areas: a 50-acre section near the intersection of Cornwallis Road and Davis Drive. A market study has shown the potential for 1.5 million square feet of development including residential, retail, office and hotel construction at that site.
“This was just one of those opportunities that came up that we felt we needed to take advantage of,” Geolas said of the hotel’s purchase.
The Radisson was built primarily to support companies such as the early tenants IBM Corp. and the nonprofit research institute RTI International, Hunter said. Business became more competitive as the park evolved more hotels were constructed in the area.
It became necessary for the hotel to have a national brand as customers started expecting the corporate benefits, he said. So in 1989, he said it became the Radisson Governor’s Inn. The change came with a remodel of the structure, although Hunter said the building is still the original.
“That carries us on for the next several years, during which the hotel (as did the park)… did grow, and had a pretty storied history,” he said.
Hunter said he started as a waiter, then worked as maitre-d of the private dinner club, he became assistant hotel manager, then resident manager, then second-in-command, and then in 1995, took on the role of general manager.
He said the role brought him in contact with celebrities visiting for dedications or for the charity event, the Duke Children’s Classic. He said he always had a new challenge, such as how to find a way to give the hotel a competitive edge, or offer something new for customers. He said more recently, they’ve worked to find sustainable ways to support the business.
Business has been affected by a downturn in travel during the recession and by more meetings being conducted online, he said. In addition, he said the hotel lost the ability to be in the loyalty program of its No. 1 customer, which he said was “very devastating.”
“There has been some erosion of the normal base of business, which would be your basically, business customer, midweek, and paying of course, better rates and utilizing fully the hotel services, the restaurant, lounge and meeting space,” he said. “That’s not as vibrant as it once was.”
But he said the hotel has a uniqueness that’s appealing, and it has a following that will miss it.
““I think this is an experience that you’ll only get in this hotel, different from any other,” he said. “While it’s not really going to go into the future, and I understand that, because the building is 41 years old, it’s on a 10-acre space that could surely be better utilized, but during its duration, I think it stood for something; I think it did that well.”