A talk with Midamerica's Dan Drury

Monday, July 14, 2008

Last week's vote in the Cape Girardeau County Commission settled whether the county would sell 1.24 acres of park property to Midamerica Hotels. Now that the county has agreed to sell, the question becomes: What will Midamerica do with the land now that it can combine the parcel with the property it already owns at Center Junction?

The answer, from Midamerica president Dan Drury, is that it is too soon to reveal any plans. While he gave some hints, probably inadvertently, he said nothing definite about the property. The hints consisted of questioning the profitability of a new hotel in the current economic climate.

But then again, he questioned the profitability of any major new venture begun in the near future.

"The best thing to do is to sit down and look at it," he said. "How many shopping centers is Cape going to support? Bob Hahn has done a tremendous job getting developers and different retail establishments to look at the Cape environment. But this is not a build-it-and-they-will-come town. We've got to grow."

In Drury's view, Cape Girardeau has stagnated at about 34,000 people. While that is a tad low — the Census Bureau's most recent estimate from 2003 put the population at 35,741 — the point he's making is that the region needs to bulk up before big national companies will make a substantial investment.

"We all have desires to see Center Junction develop," Drury said. "Everyone hopes to see Jackson's Main Street intersection and other areas to grow. But who is going to feed it? It has got to have population, and population is where it's at."

To anyone who might remember an article I wrote last week that strong growth in hotel and restaurant tax receipts represents a bright spot in an otherwise weak local retail sector and think that means big profits, guess again, Drury said.

There are two factors pushing the numbers up — higher prices and more places to spend money, he said.

And Drury should know. Midamerica operates hotels in Cape Girardeau, Paducah, Ky., and St. Louis as well as 34 Burger King restaurants in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas.

"We get not only price increases on our food, but fuel surcharges on top of that," he said. Profits are being squeezed by minimum wage price increases and customer resistance to paying more for fast food as well, he said.

"Some days we will all do good," Drury said. "Some days we will all be real hungry. It is how many slices can you put into the pie. That is all there is to it."

Another factor that has helped restaurants and hotels are the natural disasters that have struck the area. The ice storm in February followed by flooding rains in March not only resulted in people buying more food from restaurants when their homes lost power, but also brought in relief workers from government and private organizations who were housed in hotels and ate their meals in restaurants, he said.

The bottom line? "We have some interesting times in front of us," Drury said. "I like to be positive about Center Junction. Its time will come. Time will tell. Developers are very skittish right now."

The planning is underway and "we are looking for our future," Drury said. "But we have got to get some industry here. I want it to look nice, what we do. Midamerica Hotels has proven we try to do things and do them right."

* New store: Today is the opening of a new store at 255 S. Plaza Way. Donna Elfrink is putting her skills at finding quality used clothing and knick-knacks to use in Patricia's Closet, which she bills as "trendy clothing, trinkets and treasures."

The store will feature new and used clothing — Elfrink will accept some consignments but much of the inventory will be things she finds. "It is something I have always wanted to do," she said. "I named it after my older sister. We've got a family of nine, and she is basically the little mother hen."

The clothing will appeal to all ages with an emphasis on junior sizes for girls and boys, she said. The "trinkets and treasures" will be decorative items for the home as well as some jewelry, she said.

"For right at 21 years I worked in a warehouse," she said. "I quit there in March, and this will be a full-time adventure."

Elfrink's business will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

* Making room: A local wholesale roofing distributor has razed its former warehouse at 2340 Rusmar St. to make way for a new structure on the same site. ABC Supply Co. began demolition of its 10,000-square-foot facility July 1 and plans to have a new 20,000-square-foot warehouse by October. Manager Stan Miller told my colleague Brian Blackwell the company needed more space to conduct business.

Rudi Keller is business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at rkeller@semissourian.com or 335-6611, extension 126.

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