— Story by Martin Kidston – Missoula Current
GREAT FALLS – A vintage hotel on N. Reserve Street will close its doors for good next month as the owners gear up to redevelop the property with new lodging.
Ruby’s Inn, built in 1980 by Lou and Ruby Erck, is set to close the day after graduation at the University of Montana. Demolition will start shortly after and construction of the new Hilton Homewood Suites will last roughly 14 months.
“Over the years, ma-and-pa-type hotels don’t do as well. People like the standard – the chain hotel,” said Dustan Williams, CEO of Erck Hotels. “There are nice boutique hotels out there, but this, being such an older building, it’s time to upgrade it.”
While Erck Hotels gears up to redevelop the property, the brief history of Ruby’s Inn and the family that built it isn’t lost on the company’s employees.
Lou and Ruby were married for 66 years and Ruby’s Inn was their first hotel in what’s now a chain of Hilton properties located across three states, including Montana, Washington and Idaho.
Ruby passed away in 2012 and Lou followed last May.
“We’re going to memorialized Lou and Ruby with a little statue, or something of that nature,” said Williams. “They started the Hotel-Motel Association for the state of Montana. They’re icons in the hotel industry. We’re just sad but at the same time, change needs to happen.”
The new Homewood Suites will include 100 rooms on four floors. The building will sit parallel to Reserve Street and preserve the shady, creek-side courtyard in the back. A row of suites will be included in the project with a view of what’s slated to become a park.
“We’ve made a deal with the city, where the bike path will go along that creek in the back,” Williams said. “We’re having a huge courtyard in the back. We’ve made a deal with the property owners behind us to keep all those trees and give that to the city as a park that can never be developed. We’re excited about that.”
Williams said the new hotel will acknowledge the past, including the efforts of Lou and Ruby. Erck Hotels enjoys a good relationship with Hilton, which has approved the inclusion of “Lou and Ruby type stuff” in the new Homewood.
In the end, Williams said, “It’ll kind of be like a Ruby’s Homewood.”
“I’m kind of sand kind of excited,” Williams said. “I’ve been here for 25 years. I started here at the front desk and I love the family, and as we’ve grown and built more hotels, Ruby’s has always been what we call the mother ship. We’re all a little sad and nostalgic.”
Williams said the hotel will close its doors the day after graduation.
“They were long-standing Griz supporters, so we’ll do something in conjunction with the university as well, just keeping with Ruby’s name,” Williams said.
Williams said Phyllis Erck, the daughter of Lou and Ruby, will likely continue the annual Ruby Jewell Bluegrass Jamboree once the new property opens.