DES MOINES, Iowa - For nearly a century, the Hotel Fort Des Moines has welcomed U.S. presidents, world leaders, rock stars, and celebrities through its doors. But in recent years, the once-iconic hotel has sunken into disrepair, only seeing a few guests per night.
Raj Patel is hoping to change that. The 23-year old businessman, along with his family's company, Hawkeye Hotels, bought the Hotel Fort Des Moines two weeks ago for $4 million. Within six to nine months, they hope to begin construction on the building, bringing back the hotel's original glory to downtown Des Moines.
"It was an image too striking to walk away from, so I was drawn in from the moment I stepped into the building," Patel said.
Patel's family started two hotels along the Principal Riverwalk in Des Moines last summer, and owns and operates about 50 hotels across the country. Patel plans about $40 million in renovations on the building, but plan to retain the first two levels' historic structure. Patel says he'd like to knock out half of the second floor to restore the first floor lobby's original two-story ceilings. Floors three through 11 would be completely renovated into brand-new hotel rooms, with the exception of some of the historic rooms, such as the Presidential Suite. The hotel would retain its name, but likely will become either a Hilton or Marriott-brand business.
While Patel says he's excited to see big names return to the hotel upon completion, he's more excited for the people of Des Moines to embrace the building again. He says, after all, this once was the "community's hotel."
"There are so many people here who have memories here in the hotel, or their fathers and their mothers and their brothers and sisters have memories in the hotel," he said. "I want to get back there, I want to make the Hotel Fort Des Moines the community's hotel. And I want to re-establish the Hotel Fort Des Moines in American history as an Iowan icon."
The Hotel Fort Des Moines will shut down during construction later this year, and Patel says he expects to re-open the doors in early 2017.