Hannibal's new downtown hotel sits upon town's historic landscape


Babu Patel proudly shows off a third-floor room in the almost completed Best Western on the River hotel addition in downtown Hannibal. The rooms feature two king-size beds, an unusual characteristic in the hotel industry, he said. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

A total of 30 new hotel rooms, located in the heart of Hannibal’s historic district, will open up for occupancy next week, prior to the start of the Labor Day Weekend. Just steps from festivals, concerts, unique shopping venues, parks and the historic association that makes Hannibal unique, the east-facing rooms also offer a panoramic view of the Mississippi River, and a bird’s eye view of the home where Sam Clemens grew up.

Nestled into the slopping hillside just three blocks from the Mississippi River, the Best Western On The River hotel addition, which is owned and managed by Babu Patel – a Hannibal resident since the early 1980s - and his family, rose from land where Clemens himself doubtless played as a boy.

I

n 1859, just a few years after Sam Clemens and his family left Hannibal:

* Thomas S. Miller operated a lumberyard on the east side of Third Street, between Bird and Hill, right across the street from the 2015 hotel addition.

* P.B. Norris and a Mr. Myers operated a carpenter shop on the northeast corner of Hill and Third, where the Mark Twain Dinette now stands.

* J.P. Pitts, a harness maker, lived on the west side of Third Street – where the new hotel addition stands - between Hill and Bird.

* Daniel Hafner, street commissioner, lived on the east side of Third Street, between Hill and Bird.

* Samuel K. Anderson lived on the land where the hotel addition now stands, on Third Street, two doors south of Hill.

Hotel history

Babu Patel and his family purchased, remodeled and reopened Hotel Clemens, at 401 N. Third St., in 2008-2009. Along with the hotel purchase came the land to the south of the original hotel, where the new hotel addition now stands.

Site preparation work for the hotel addition began in 2014, and most of the work on the new building has been completed during 2015.

Babu Patel said as the downtown historic district and associated events have grown in popularity, the demand for downtown hotel rooms has increased. People enjoy the luxury of spending the evenings enjoying the downtown venues, then walking to the hotel for the night.

Hotel’s features

Almost all of the rooms in the new hotel addition feature two king-size beds, which is unique for the industry. The rooms are 37x12 feet, larger that most hotel rooms, and a little larger than the rooms in the original hotel building across the street. The rooms feature 49-inch televisions, five pillows for each bed, a refrigerator and microwave oven, cable TV, high speed Internet and extra bedside electrical outlets to accommodate personal electronic devices.

All rooms, and the hallways, have central air conditioning. There is a seating lounge on each of the three floors, plus vending machines and ice makers. The first floor also includes a well-equipped fitness room with individual TVs mounted on the wall.

The Patels are strict with enforcement of no smoking and no pets. “This is the cleanest hotel you can get,” Babu said.

The new hotel addition does feature a stamped concrete patio on the north end of the building to accommodate those who wish to smoke outside.

Second generation

Aswin Patel, son of Babu, has been in the hotel industry for 30 years, and has witnessed changing customer needs and desires.

“People want bigger rooms, fast Internet, free full breakfasts, non smoking, and all the creature comforts of home,” he said. The hotel strives to meet these “wants.”

“They want USB cords, extra plugins, free WiFi … free everything, really,” he said with a smile.

The hotel utilizes Internet service from Charter, the fastest Internet available.

Working with his father in the family business has its unique perks.

“He tells me what to do daily. And if I didn’t do enough, he lets me know that, too,” Aswin said.

Hannibal first

One of the things that Babu Patel is most proud of is that the new hotel addition was built using local resources whenever possible.

Building materials were purchased at Home Store or Lowe’s, or from Quincy. All the brickmasons were local, as were the asphalters, electricians, carpet layers and tile layers. Mike Kettelkamp was the architect for the building. Link Enterprises LLC (Stuart Link) served as general contractor for the project.

“Babu is very local minded,” said Stuart Link. “He wants to buy local if possible.”

Babu Patel, 30

years in Hannibal

Babu is a native of Surat, Guyarat, India. He came to the United States in 1969, with bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He had a job lined up with Dutch Boy Paint in Baltimore, Md.

When he left India, he had $6 in his pocket. On the airplane, he was asked if he wanted a beer. He said yes, assuming the beer was free. Instead, it was $2. “Then I had $4 in my pocket,” he said.

In 1982, he moved to Hannibal, accepting the job of head chemist for Ennis Paint Co., near Saverton, where he worked for eight years.

“I got fired because of misbehavior,” Babu said. “The boss lady said I had been sitting at a table and chairs for two hours. I told her I was smarter than her.”

“She sent him packing,” said Gully Patel, Aswin’s wife, as the family shared a laugh over the frequently retold story.

Business venture

In the meantime, Babu and his wife had purchased the Tom & Huck Motel near the intersection of U.S. 61 and Pleasant/West Ely Road. He and his wife and their two sons moved into the motel, and the family continued to live there for 23 years.

Even before he left the paint factory, Babu did all the maintenance work at the motel himself, and his wife cleaned the rooms.

Business association

Hannibal real estate saleswoman Lee Link represented the Patels when they purchased the Tom & Huck. This began a three-decade family relationship that started with Link Enterprises adding 16 rooms to the Tom & Huck, and continuing to this day. Lee’s son, Stuart, served as general contractor for the newest hotel construction project.

“I call Stu my bro,” Babu said. “He finished (this project) on time, and on budget.”

Just before opening the new hotel addition to guests, Lee Link and her sisters took a tour of the building.

Other hotels

Babu and Answin worked together to build the Days Inn in 1986, and then they built the Holiday Inn Express in 1996. They built five more Holiday Inn Express facilities within a 100-mile radius of Hannibal, at Kirksville, Moberly, Troy and St. Charles in Missouri, and in O’Fallon, Ill. They later sold the out-of-town facilities, keeping only the Hannibal properties. They now operate four hotels in Hannibal, employing more than 60 people.

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