March 13, 2002 11:00 pm
HISTORIC HOTEL LEASED: New operators of the Union Hotel, from left, Dave Dooley, Deb Allstott, Charm Bogle and Lee Bogle, are learning the intricacies of running the business from hotel owners Allen and Twyla Cornelius. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
HISTORIC HOTEL LEASED: New operators of the Union Hotel, from left, Dave Dooley, Deb Allstott, Charm Bogle and Lee Bogle, are learning the intricacies of running the business from hotel owners Allen and Twyla Cornelius. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

UNION Golf has been big in Union since the Buffalo Peak Golf Course opened.

Now a new foursome is coming to town.

Debbie Allstott and her husband, Dave Dooley, and Lee and Charm Bogle are the new operators of the Union Hotel on Main Street.

Allen and Twyla Cornelius, who bought the hotel in 1996, are leasing it to the two La Grande couples. The Corneliuses will move to La Grande.

The new folks will be bringing in some new businesses as well.

Allstott will move her La Grande store, Deb Allstott Window Coverings at 1306 Adams Ave., to a spot off the lobby of the hotel.

Charm Bogle, a sales associate at Ranch-n-Home Realty in La Grande, will have a real estate branch office in the hotel.

Dooley, a private contractor, will be responsible for the maintenance and involved in the refurbishing of the building.

One thing that wont change: the restaurant, Nellie Jeans, is a leased space and will continue to be operated by Dori Simmons.

The new hotel operators are anxious to get going, learning the intricacies of the local business from the Corneliuses.

Were in a transition period right now, said Twyla Cornelius. As we train the new operators, well ease out.

She said the couple wanted to spend more time as a family, which includes their son, Jordan, 12, and do some of the recreational things in the area they have been recommending to hotel guests. They are living in a rental now but looking to buy a La Grande home.

We love the area and want to stay here.

The Corneliuses moved here from the Eugene-Springfield area, where they ran a landscape maintenance business. At the hotel they have lived in a first-floor apartment that had been converted from the Ladies Parlor.

The 32,000-square-foot, three-story hotel was built in 1921 for $150,000 but was on the verge of being condemned when the Corneliuses bought it.

About a year ago, they put the hotel on the market.

We had interested prospective buyers, but we couldnt reach an agreement, Twyla Cornelius said.

The lease arrangement with the La Grande couples is a win-win situation for all of us, she said.

We did a lot of work and renovation and took the business about as far as we could, she said. We feel this group will have four people and will take it to the next level.

She said she and Allen did about 75 percent of the work that needs to be done to the old building, which was in considerable disrepair, as was the hotel business itself, when they bought it.

They have made over 14 rooms and have seven apartments that are rented.

There was little, if any, service for guests when they took over.

There was an absentee owner from Silverton who owned it for three years but never moved here. There were four permanent guests and a few people who stayed here occasionally. When guests checked in, they were handed their linens and had to clean up after the previous guest, Twyla said.

The Corneliuses spent a lot of time stripping old paint off beautiful wood, added carpeting in specific areas, and refurbished

several rooms.

There once were 75 rooms, but some shared or had no bath. In some cases, we took two rooms and made them into one with a bath.

Weve had a pretty good occupancy rate. It has grown by about 30 percent a year as people have found out about us, although we havent done a lot of advertising. Weve relied on the freeway sign, our Web site and word of mouth.

We are typically full in the summer, especially on weekends. Having the golf course open up here has helped us.

For example, she said, people from Seattle and from Salt Lake met here for a weekend of golf.

At first, guests were so few that five years ago we used to scribble our reservations on a calendar, she said.

All four of the new operators will be active in running the business and plan to move to Union and be active in the community, Charm Bogle said.

We want to continue on what Allen and Twyla have done. We intend to finish the building renovations, continuing to use the idea of having each room with a different theme, Bogle said.

We dont plan any great changes, but with four of us, we can concentrate on doing some marketing. Its surprising how many people are calling, looking ahead.

Her husband, Lee, will continue working at Barreto Manufacturing but will be involved in marketing, she said.

All four of us are making a commitment to the town of Union. Well move here. Dave and Deb grew up in small towns.

Allstott and Dooley have a daughter, Jessie Franklin, 16, a sophomore who will become a Union High School student.

She said Union hasnt had a real estate business presence in the community in five or six years. Her branch office of Ranch-n-Home will occupy a small space off the lobby.

I call it Suite A, she said. Broker Phil Burling will be in Union one day a week or more.

Bogle said the foursome would make an effort to attract more meetings, conferences, seminars of various sizes.

Most of those will be held in the parlor, a high-ceilinged room with a fireplace off one end of the marble-tiled lobby.

Twyla Cornelius said the room has been used for business retreats, anniversary and birthday events, receptions. Its big enough to seat 65 at a dinner, she said.

Bogle said the new operators would add a smaller conference room so two groups could be meeting at the same time if necessary.

Allen Cornelius, who once wanted to own a cattle ranch, now is thinking about opening another landscaping business or an underhouse drainage business.

The long-term plan, Charm Bogle said, is for the new operators to figure out a way to buy the hotel. Wed like to purchase it.