While it may have been two and a half years since the announcement was made, the vision of a hotel in Owatonna’s downtown has been floating around town for more than three decades.
“What a dream come true,” said Mayor Tom Kuntz, inside the lobby of the new Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Owatonna Thursday afternoon for the ceremonial ribbon cutting. “I grew up in Owatonna … We used to come over to the theater all the time, and back in those days — could you even dream that we’d be able to have a Courtyard by Marriott in our downtown area?”
“Boy, what an accomplishment this has been,” Kuntz continued, addressing a full crowd inside the lobby, consisting of local elected officials, business owners, chamber ambassadors, nonprofit leaders and more. “All you have to do is look at everybody who is here and the people outside — you know how important this is to our community and to the growth of our community.”
In January 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was gearing up to effectively shut down communities across the globe, Mac Hamilton, CEO of Hamilton Real Estate Group, announced at an Owatonna City Council meeting that he had already secured a franchise with Marriott to bring a Courtyard hotel to the downtown district.
Located at the 200 block of North Cedar Avenue and wrapping around Pearl Street — the former site of the State Theater that was demolished in 2012 — the Courtyard by Marriott is a first for many people: it is the first hotel development Hamilton has taken on; it is the first hotel Scott Mohs with Mohs Construction has ever built; and it is the first general manager job for Brian Billington.
But for the community of Owatonna, it is one of a handful of dreams they wanted to see become a reality. Jeff Fetters, chairman of Federated Insurance, recalled the initiatives born out of Owatonna Forward roughly five years ago and how many of those things have since been checked off the list.
“You said you want a new high school — done; we have a new high school coming. You said we want to revitalize downtown — done; look how beautiful it is; we have to sweep up a few pieces of dirt out there, but people will be driving on that again soon,” Fetters said, adding restaurants, shopping and housing were all among the things the community said they wanted and are continually coming to town. “There’s still much, much more to come, based on what you said that you wanted to see happen in Owatonna.”
Hamilton has had a presence in Owatonna as a well-respected developer for a number of years, including completing the South Pointe apartments on 18th Street, the 111 Vine Street apartments, the Pearl Apartments on Pearl Street and reconstructing the space of the new Old Town Bagels location and former Jerry’s Supper Club. During the hotel ribbon cutting Thursday, Hamilton wanted to make it clear that he is only one part of the bigger picture.
“I want it to be perfectly clear that I am just one of a really hard working team that made this happen,” Hamilton said, stating Owatonna is lucky to have Kuntz, the City Council and the city community development team championing for growth in the city. “The attitude in this community is a big part of how this happened … I think you will see a lot of other growth; hopefully this is just a part of the beginning.”
Among the long list of names thanked during the ceremony, Steve Judd was mentioned by multiple people for his vision decades ago, seeing a downtown hotel in Owatonna. Judd — a former Federated executive — is credited by the community with his vision to revamp the 200 block of North Cedar. In 2018, he worked tirelessly in collaboration with HK Hospitality to develop what was being called the “Historical District Showcase Centre” in the same location as the Courtyard.
With the hotel officially opened, guests are able to reserve a room on or after Aug. 8. Billington said many reservations have already been made, and the air inside the lobby Thursday afternoon tingled with excitement from all those who dreamed of that very day.
“You have changed our city in so many different ways. The hotel is just one,” Fetters said, addressing Hamilton. “As the mayor said, we are truly watching our dreams come true.”
Cast members of the Paradise Community Theatre’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” will take the audience back in time to the 15th century.
As the bells of Notre Dame sound through the famed cathedral in Paris, the story of Quasimodo, played by Owatonna native Cody Jensen, unfolds.
The hunchbacked bell-ringer of Notre Dame desires to be a part of the outside world one day, and drums up the courage to attend Feast of the Fools. He meets a compassionate gypsy Esmeralda, played by Jenna McMains, who protects him from an angry mob.
Quasimodo’s master, the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, played by Patrick McColley, and the new captain of the guard, Phoebus de Martin, played by Jason Meyer, also both fall in love with Esmeralda.
Six performances follow Friday’s opening for attendees to find out if Quasimodo will be able to save Esmeralda from Frollo’s lust and anger before Paris is burned to the ground, if she will return Quasimodo’s affection and see who the “true” monster of Notre Dame is.
The musical is based on the Victor Hugo novel and includes songs from the Disney animated feature as well as some new songs. The local production is directed by Shelley Fitzgerald and choreographed by Jordyn Tesch.
The cast includes over 30 members, whom McMains said are all “very” talented.
“They always put a great show together, with good cast,” McMains said of the Paradise Community Theatre.
Having performed in a previous Paradise Community Theatre show in 2017, “Beauty and the Beast,” McMains said this musical has that “same Disney magic.”
The cast also includes ensemble members who play statues and chorale members who play gypsies.
“If you want to see amazing costumes, stage and music, come see a performance,” McMains said. “Both the lead roles and ensemble play an important role in the play, and do such a good job of telling the story.”
McColley, who is experiencing his first full show on the Paradise stage, said there is a “crazy” amount of talent among the cast and all members have important roles in the musical.
“It’s been a great experience. Everyone has been welcoming, and it’s really cool to be in this space,” McColley said.
Among the bell tower filled with stone figures and a solitary Hunchback are three bells rented from the Grand Rapids Theater.
Paradise Community Theatre producer Kathy Rush said the other theater had planned on producing the musical, but the pandemic caused the cast to leave the musical unfinished. Rush said a cast member came across a post about the bells online, and directors reached out to see if they could use them.